An emergency taskforce to deal with a potential outbreak of foot and mouth disease will be set up in Victoria.

It comes as Australian agriculture ministers agreed on a draft national biosecurity strategy at a recent meeting that discussed the disease, which has the potential to cripple the country’s livestock industry.

The Andrews government’s emergency animal disease taskforce will focus on bolstering Agriculture Victoria’s workforce to help manage the potential social, economic, and environmental threats posed by foot and mouth.

More than 300 Agriculture Victoria staff are undertaking foot and mouth disease-specific training, scenario planning, and emergency exercises.

Victorian Agriculture Minister Gayle Tierney said biosecurity and the protection of agriculture, the economy and the natural environment is everyone’s responsibility. 

“Risk assessment and preparedness is key in ensuring we’re best placed to respond if there is a positive detection in livestock in Victoria – and we’re doing the work now to protect our industry,” she said.

Victoria is the only jurisdiction that has a mandatory electronic national livestock identification system for sheep and goats, with an average 10.5 million sheep tags purchased every year. 

State cattle producers buy 2.5 million cattle tags each year, according to the Victorian government. 

Livestock traceability was among the issues on the agenda for the first meeting of agriculture ministers under the new Albanese government last week. 

After an eight-month hiatus, ministers resolved to advance work on a national approach to Australia’s livestock traceability systems, noting a mandatory identification system is urgently needed for sheep and goats. 

They agreed in-principle to the draft National Biosecurity Strategy, according to a communiqué published on Friday. 

The strategy is poised to offer a roadmap towards a better co-ordinated national system to deal with agricultural pressures, like foot and mouth disease and the destructive varroa mite.

The meeting was the first chaired by federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt.

“Threats of foot and mouth disease, lumpy skin disease and varroa mite reinforces the importance of a strong, shared biosecurity effort, because incursions don’t stop at our borders,” Senator Watt said in a statement on Saturday.

“As a result, we have agreed on pathways to deliver a national framework to improve biosecurity, through more traceability and a new national strategy.”

The agriculture ministers also agreed workforce shortages were among the biggest issues facing Australia’s agricultural industries, and said tackling them would be an ongoing priority. 

The ministers will meet again in coming weeks.