Could foot-and-mouth disease be the end of the livestock sector in Indonesia?


Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is spreading in Indonesia, raising fears of a paralysis in the livestock sector.

Since the first outbreak was reported in early May, more than 450,000 cases have been confirmed. Experts suggest Indonesia is struggling to contain the virus due to a lack of effective vaccination programs. That, and its non-unified livestock sector.

Government officials aim to bring the outbreak under control by the end of the year. They cite their previous success in 1986 when it was declared free of foot-and-mouth disease by the World Health Organization as support.

The new outbreak is the first in Indonesia since the 1980s. It comes as the country also grapples with the spread of Lumpy skin disease in his cattle.

What is foot-and-mouth disease?

Nicknamed the “most feared livestock diseasefoot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious viral infection that is particularly resistant to environmental changes. It can survive on inanimate objects until it encounters a suitable living host.

The virus is transmissible through clothing, transport, animal feed and even livestock products, such as meat.

The fact that so much can be contaminated means that the disease is very difficult to eradicate.

The virus affects all cloven-hoofed animals, including cattle, deer, pigs, goats and sheep. However, it does not infect horses or zebras.

Infected animals develop blisters, which frequently rupture and develop into excruciating lesions. Animals are unable to walk or eat and start drooling.

Few animals die from the virus, although many are infected. However, in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease, many are forcibly slaughtered.

The Indonesian government launched a vaccination rollout in mid-June, with nearly one million (992,000) cattle treated before August 4.

However, 7,702 animals were killed and another 4,847 are believed to have died directly from foot-and-mouth disease.

Is human health in danger?

Although foot-and-mouth disease is carried by both live animals and meat and dairy products, it is not considered a risk for Human health. Cases of animal-to-human transmission are rare, but the risk may be reduced even further by limiting the consumption of products of animal origin.

“Disease in humans has been reported primarily in connection with the consumption of unpasteurized milk, dairy products, or unprocessed meat products from infected animals or following direct contact with infected animals,” says the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Other methods of transmission include infection through open skin wounds by handling sick animals or through the oral mucosa by drinking infected milk.

For those who contract the virus, it presents with body blisters, sore throat and fever with symptoms lasting about a week.

No human-to-human transmission has ever been recorded. It is in no way related to the much more common hand, foot and mouth disease.

Animal agriculture: a breeding ground for disease

Climate experts have recommended an immediate abandonment of animal agriculture as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, another consequence could be a tangible reduction in zoonotic diseases.

Despite evidence that demonstrates a link between animal agriculture and the development and spread of infectious diseases, consumers are still relatively in the dark.

Recent outbreaks of avian influenza have highlighted the growing risks to human health. It is rare for humans to catch the disease. But earlier this year, a human case of bird flu was detected in the UK.

Activists have put forward the theory that zoonotic diseases would not be as widespread if animals were allowed to live out their lives in peace and in their natural habitats.

“There are 24 billion chickens in the world, or more than three birds for every person on the planet,” said Juliet Gellatley, founder and director of animal rights organization Viva! “Anyway you look at it, domestic poultry is massively overrepresented among the world’s bird population.”

Will the Indonesian livestock sector survive?

Indonesia’s beef demand currently exceeds the country’s production capacity, with only 45 percent being cultivated in the country. This figure is expected to decline due to a lack of effective vaccination deployment, underpinned by a shortage of qualified people to administer the injections.

More than 6.5 million rural farmers depend on approximately 16.6 million livestock for income. Although the government has launched a compensation program for the forced logging, experts fear it does not adequately cover losses. This could force farmers to look for alternative work outside of animal husbandry.

Professor Peter Windsor, a livestock health expert from the University of Sydney, doubts the reported infection figures are accurate, meaning the impact could be worse than already feared.

“They say about half a million animals are infected, but you can probably put another zero at the end because we know reporting levels are still low,” he said. The Guardian.


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