Australia has installed citric acid mats in its international airports, which receive passengers from Indonesia. The threat of foot and mouth disease (FMD) has prompted the government to implement the “strongest biosecurity response” in the nation’s history. Experts estimate an outbreak of FMD could cost Australia’s economy $80 billion.

Citric Acid Mats at Darwin and Cairns

Passengers from Indonesia must walk over two wet mats loaded with citric acid solution upon arrival. The mats are designed to dislodge dirt from the shoe’s sole and sanitise any biological threats. The mats were introduced at Darwin and Cairns airports earlier this week and are due to be rolled out across the country.

FMD threat to Livestock
Australia’s livestock are at threat | © Martin Auldist

The new measures were implemented after viral fragments of FMD were found in food products imported from China. More worryingly, viral fragments were detected in pork products sold by a retailer in Melbourne, the first ever instance of FMD found in a retail setting.

Australia is known for its strict biohazard precautions for travellers entering the country. The nation’s geographical isolation from the rest of the world makes it particularly vulnerable to invasive species and diseases. To protect the country’s livestock from foreign diseases, travellers must declare whether they’ve been to a farm while abroad. If they have, shoes and clothes may be confiscated and cleaned. Estimates suggest Australia’s Agriculture Industry could lose as much as $80 billion from an outbreak of FMD.

Additional Measures to Help Prevent Spread

The citric acid mats are not the only precautions Australia is taking to avoid an outbreak. Aaron Dodd, an expert in Biosecurity at the University of Melbourne, says a large number of additional controls have been added to help prevent spread.

“There have been extra detector dogs put in airports that didn’t have them earlier, so that picks up the pork or beef sausage, for example, that would have previously gone undetected,” He said,  adding: “Based on research, putting those measures in place are more effective than doing foot baths, even though it seems like the obvious thing to do.”

FMD spread citric acid mats
More border force dogs are being deployed | © Darren England

Australia’s Federal Agriculture Minister, Murray Watt, says the mats “will be a physical reminder to passengers to do the right thing to limit any spread of FMD, and will be used in conjunction with our current measures, such as passenger declaration, 100% profiling of all passengers entering from Indonesia, real-time risk assessments, questioning and shoe cleaning.”

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