Govt toughens stance on disease import risks in travel luggage

Beef Central, 12/02/2019

INTERNATIONAL travellers failing to declare plant and animal matter they bring into Australia will face fines, possible criminal prosecution and/or court proceedings as a new attitude to enforcement is adopted by the Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture minister David Littleproud said his office would work with the office of minister for immigration, David Coleman, to explore ways to refuse entry to any traveller who is caught with undeclared goods risking biosecurity a second time.

The Department of Agriculture would also look at ways to penalise and prosecute those bringing plant and animal risk material into Australia through the mail and to stop those sending this material to Australia, he said.

The new ‘zero tolerance’ action follows confirmed detections of both African Swine Fever and Foot & Mouth Disease – considered the single biggest threat to Australians agriculture – in meat confiscated at airports in December and January by Department of Agriculture staff.

In comments posted on a recent Beef Central article following the detection of ASF in undeclared pork products found in travel luggage, several readers expressed concern over the leniency shown by customs officials to international travellers caught blatantly trying to smuggle at-risk foodstuffs into Australia.

Studies have estimated a $50 billion economic loss over ten years if there were large to medium outbreak of FMD in Australia. FMD is present in many Asian countries including China but is not present in our closest neighbour, Indonesia. ASF is present in sub-Saharan Africa and some countries in Eastern Europe, in Belgium in wild boar and now also China and Mongolia.

“I won’t tolerate travellers risking Australian farming. No light touches or slaps on the wrists,” Minister Littleproud said in a statement issued yesterday, in the lead-up to this year’s federal election.

“My job is to look after Australia and its farmers, not pander to political correctness. Our farming and food security need to be protected and I don’t care if someone has to wait an extra few minutes at an airport,” he said.

“I expect the Department to issue fines against any person who fails to declare meat in their luggage. We need a penalties-based system, not a warnings-based system. We need this issue to be taken seriously by travellers. I’m not interested in excuses. If FMD got to Australia it would be a genuine disaster,” he said.

“If travellers fill out the forms honestly they will have no problem. Only in highly unusual circumstances will it be acceptable to issue a warning rather than a fine.”

ASF, FMD traces found in travellers’ baggage

The Department of Agriculture ramped-up screening and testing efforts last year when ASF disease was confirmed in China. Declared and seized pork jerky, sausages and pork products were collected over two periods – 3 December to 16 December 2018 and 21 January to 3 February 2019 – and sent to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory for testing.

During both periods, ASF virus was detected in seized product. Testing confirmed six samples out of 152 contained ASF virus fragments in the first period, and a further 40 samples out of 283 were contaminated with ASF virus from the second period.

Further testing was carried out on the products collected during the second period to assess the risk of FMD. Two samples out of 283 were found to be contaminated with FMD virus fragments, with one further sample being inconclusive. The two positive FMD samples and one inconclusive sample were from products declared by passengers.

These results do not change Australia’s ASF-free or FMD-free status.

Mr Littleproud said wherever possible, travellers who fail to declare will be issued with an infringement notice and fine for hundreds of dollars, for providing false or misleading information/IPC (Incoming Passenger Card) document. These actions are recorded and form part of future intervention approach for targeting non-compliant travellers.


Source: Office of the minister for primary industries


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  1. K Guderian, 13/02/2019

    Great to be doing something before it is too late. Thanks for taking your job seriously and looking after Australian agriculture.

  2. RW STEEN, 12/02/2019

    Not before time ! This is what should be happening at all times to protect our borders and vast agricultural businesses.
    Just put the culprits back on the plane and send them home- they know the rules.
    While your at it disinfect all shoes and hiking boots coming back from known infected countries regardless of what people declare.
    I have been a Livestock Agent for 50 plus years and we have been extremely lucky that we haven’t had an outbreak of foot and mouth.
    Hopefully you as the Dept Ag keep the rules tight.Not speaking our language should not exempt travellers from prosecution

  3. Gil schmidt, 12/02/2019

    The leniency at entry into Australian airports beggars belief. Most of the foodstuffs detected are from Asian travelers where biosecurity and disease control is less stringent. It should be designated a Criminal offense to conceal and fail declaration and and jail time should apply. Should FMD or ASF spread to our livestock industries, particularly the wild pig population it will never be eliminated and our livestock producers bankrupted.
    I hope David Littleprouds actions are louder than words.

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