Melbourne Show fights off foot and mouth fears

author avatar
The Australian Sheep and Wool Show passed by in July with no foot and mouth fears, but pressure is piling up on the royal shows to axe their animals despite expert advice to go ahead. Photo by Daneka Hill

It might not be in Australia, but foot and mouth disease is wreaking havoc on the show season as the media runs a microscope over the major agricultural shows.

Last week, Melbourne Royal Show organisers were left fuming after media reports called for the show to ban all livestock in case of an FMD outbreak.

Melbourne Royal Show Beef Cattle Committee chairman David Bolton said the reports came out of nowhere.

“We are getting all the best advice under the sun to go ahead,” he said.

Mr Bolton said he’d been inundated with phone calls since, with people asking if the show was still going ahead.

“If you are in doubt or not comfortable, then please don’t come, but in the last 36 hours I’ve been knocked over by people being reassured and saying ‘we are coming’,” he said.

“We are really excited to get people back to the shows. Finley is slowly getting geared up, Whittlesea is close ... there are a lot of misconceptions about FMD and people don’t have the facts.”

David Bolton from Congupna is the 2022 Melbourne Royal Show’s Beef Cattle Committee chair. He says the livestock events will go ahead despite FMD fears raised by the media. Photo by Julie Mercer

One of those facts is that animals are more likely to catch FMD by eating infected pieces of meat and food scraps — not through dirt on shoes.

The Melbourne Royal Show has been consulting closely with Agriculture Victoria and is planning to roll out foot mats at every entrance and police the general public’s access to livestock if required.

Matt Cooney plans to bring 24 of his Lowline cattle from Tallygaroopna to the Melbourne Royal Show. Photo by Megan Fisher

Brisbane’s Ekka begins on August 6 and has been suffering from the same bad press.

“They are dealing with the same thing, but in their case it’s actually resulted in sponsors dropping out,” Mr Bolton said.

“In reality, the Ekka is having more trouble with COVID than FMD.”

Losing sponsorships could be devastating for the Melbourne Royal Show, which hasn’t run in two years — or had an income in two years.

Cattle exhibitor Matt Cooney plans to take 24 of his Lowline cattle to Melbourne from Tallygaroopna to appear in the feature show.

“I think there is a lot of fake media and people aren’t sure what’s going on,” Mr Cooney said.

“It is putting a lot of angst on the show, but the advice from the chief vet is that the risk of transmission is very low because FMD isn’t in the country.”

Mr Cooney said the focus on the Melbourne show was interesting when the Ekka and Royal Adelaide Show were happening much sooner.

“We can learn from the two major shows that are happening before Melbourne,” he said.

“There is even the Sheepvention in Hamilton that’s happening right now. It’s going to have more sheep than the Melbourne show.”

According to the Victorian Government, there are more than 300 dedicated biosecurity staff within the Agriculture Victoria team currently undertaking FMD-specific training to ensure they’re ready to respond.


Melbourne Royal Show Beef Cattle Committee chairman David Bolton said the show was “100 per cent” going ahead and the only thing that could stop it was a confirmed FMD case in Australia.

A domestic FMD case would trigger a 72-hour livestock travel ban.

If that were to happen, the Melbourne Royal Show has adjusted its refund policy to pay out exhibitors and is stockpiling feed so farmers can ride out the travel ban at the showgrounds.

“We also have it on very good authority that livestock on route to the show when a travel ban is called will be allowed to turn around and go home,” Mr Bolton said.