The Australian government has denied suggestions that a highly infectious livestock disease has been detected in the country, after the Indonesian government moved to block live exports of cattle from northern Australia.
On Sunday, Indonesian officials notified their Australian counterparts they had detected eight cases of lumpy skin disease in cattle imported from Australia.
The detections were reportedly made in cattle from three export yards in northern Australia, including Broome in Western Australia.
It comes two months after Indonesia and Malaysia stopped importing cattle from four northern Australian export yards, including Wyndham near Broome, after a small number of cattle tested positive to the disease after arriving at their destination.
Australia’s acting chief veterinary officer, Dr Beth Cookson, said Australia remained free of the disease. Australian officials tested more than 1,000 cattle across 2,800km in northern Australia in response to the detections in Indonesia and Malaysia in July, and Cookson said they were “confident” that Australia remained lumpy skin disease-free.
The results of those tests have been provided to Indonesia and Malaysia.
“I can confirm that lumpy skin disease has never been detected in Australia and we remain free from the disease,” Cookson said.
“Australia is working closely with Indonesia and Malaysia to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.”
The Indonesian government has demanded every cow from the three export ports undergo nose and mouth swabs and blood tests to clear them of the disease before travel to Indonesia. The industry has said such tests are so costly as to be “unfeasible”, meaning Indonesia has effectively placed a ban on importing cattle from those ports.
An Australian government delegation met with Indonesian officials at the Asean summit in Jakarta on Sunday.
Lumpy skin disease is a serious viral disease that causes the skin of infected cattle to blister and also causes a significant drop in milk production. It is transmitted between animals via contaminated equipment or by insect bite.
It was first detected in Indonesia in March last year and has since been confirmed in 14 provinces across many of the country’s major islands.
Western Australia Farmers’ livestock president, Geoff Pearson, said the Australian cattle had “clearly … contacted it from inside Indonesia”, but that he understood the Indonesian government’s response.
“It’s just one of those precautionary measures that you have to take,” he said.
Indonesia is the biggest importer of Australian cattle, with 337,000 cattle – worth more than $550m – shipped to the country in 2022 alone.
Pearson said he was concerned the effective ban on imports would flood the already oversupplied domestic market.
“What we don’t want is those cattle not going into those northern [export] markets and making the situation worse in other markets,” Pearson said.
Mark Harvey-Sutton, the chief executive of the Australian Livestock Exporters Council, said the dispute has made many farmers who rely on the Indonesian market uneasy.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty amongst producers in northern Australia,” he said. “It’s also the time of year that a lot of producers are looking to turn off cattle … when there is this level of uncertainty with their biggest customer, I can certainly understand their concern.
“There is a clear pathway here at a government-to-government level where resolution needs to be achieved.”
The WA agriculture minister, Jackie Jarvis, said the state was working “around the clock” to resolve the “technical issue” between the two countries.
“The most important thing to remember is that Australia remains lumpy skin disease free,” she said.
“That has been backed up by the best advice from our veterinary experts as well as large-scale testing of properties and facilities across northern Australia.”