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THE Australian government, within days, has overturned a decision to allow the import of beef to Australia from countries that had at any time recorded a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as ‘mad cow disease’.
Australia, which is free of BSE and other devastating livestock diseases such as foot and mouth disease, is one of the world’s largest beef producers. The Australian cattle industry grows about 100 kilograms per year for each Australian, and Australians eat only 37kg per person per year.
On 1 March the government lifted a nine-year ban on beef imports from BSE-affected countries such as the United Kingdom. But this week Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister Tony Burke effectively put a two-year stop to the decision by asking the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service to require Biosecurity Australia to conduct an ‘import risk analysis’ for fresh-chilled or frozen beef from countries other than New Zealand.
Burke said the government faced ‘considerable community discussion’ about the methods that would be used to determine protocols for beef imports.
‘There has been significant community concern questioning whether the protocols adequately engaged the community and the extent to which they were different from a regulated import risk analysis,’ the Minister said.
‘These community concerns have been brought to me directly through backbench colleagues and through the media.
‘I have formed a view that conducting an Import Risk Analysis is the best way of reassuring the Australian community that effective protocols will be put in place to provide for the safety of imports.
‘There are three differences between the decision I have taken today and the process available since March 1.
‘This is a formal review process with specified time lines, guaranteed opportunities for community engagement and consultation as well as the added assurance of review by (an) eminent scientists’ group.
‘I stress that the original method for determining protocols was science-based and similarly provided for safety for consumers.
‘In light of community concern there is considerable benefit in adopting the tried-and-true method for assessing imports which applies to each commodity. The policy which was previously announced remains in place. The assessment of the risks of such imports will now have a higher level of formality. I remain firmly committed to Australia having rigorous standards in food safety and a science-based biosecurity system. This decision will help deliver both.’
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