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Darwin and Cairns airports increase biosecurity protocols

written by Liam McAneny | August 1, 2022

File image of Darwin Control Tower (Sid Mitchell)

Darwin Airport and Cairns Airport have both announced they will see the return of detector dogs in an effort to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease to Australia.

This will be the first time since late 2020 that the two airports have had detector dogs patrolling the arrivals terminals.

The dogs are one aspect of the significantly increased biosecurity response being instituted by the Australian government in response to the threat of the highly infectious disease.

Biosecurity ‘response zones’ are being set up at all Australian international airports. In addition to this, any travellers returning from Indonesia will need to use biosecurity foot mats and assent to having their shoes cleaned.

This will be the first use of these extraordinary measures since the Biosecurity Act 2015 was introduced, in which they are contained.


Foot-and-mouth disease poses no risk to humans, but is highly contagious and extremely damaging to livestock. Those most at risk are cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and pigs.

According to Dr Beth Cookson, Australia’s deputy chief veterinary officer, public awareness of the dangers of foot-and-mouth diseases has increased and is now “very high”. This is thanks to the extensive information provided for travellers she said, with information being clearly set out at the departure terminal at Denpasar Airport.

“There are certainly many cases where travellers have chosen to leave their footwear behind or surrender them when a biosecurity officer asks to clean them,” Cookson said.

Aside from the threat posed by stray bacteria on travellers’ clothes and shoes, contaminated animal and meat products present the largest threat of transferring foot-and-mouth disease to Australia.

Detector dogs are trained to recognise and alert their handlers to over 200 different items — mostly fruits, vegetables, meat, and other animal products.

Trained detector dogs can be expected to find “up to 9,000 items” of contraband over the course of their working life, according to Colleen Eiser, the assistant director of the detector dog program at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

One of the dogs deployed to Darwin Airport, Zinta, added to her tally over the weekend, sniffing out two McDonald’s McMuffins and a ham and cheese croissant stowed away in the backpack of an unlucky traveller returning from Indonesia.

The traveller now faces a fine of $2,664 for the undeclared hazardous materials.

“This will be the most expensive Maccas meal this passenger ever has,” said the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forest, Murray Watt.

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