Hide imports highlight ever-present biosecurity risks

Beef Central, 09/09/2013

The Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) says it is investigating how several consignments of wet animal hides from Columbia made it into Australia last year without detection by biosecurity inspectors.

The incident first came to public light in July when the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee made references to an 'alleged biosecurity breach' in its report following an inquiry into beef imports into Australia.

“Immediately before going to press the committee learnt of an alleged breach of biosecurity which could risk Australia's FMD and/or BSE free status,” the committee noted in its July 13 report, adding that it intended to report back on the matter by the second sitting of the new Parliament in late October.

Committee chair and Liberal Senator for NSW Bill Heffernan refused to make further comment at the time of releasing the report, but has discussed th issue again in the past week, telling rural media that Australia must lift its game on biosecurity to protect its multi-billion dollar a year trade in beef and cattle exports.

DAFF has confirmed it learned about the incident from an industry operator in May of this year, which resulted in an immediate inspection of a commercial premises.

A DAFF statement issued to Beef Central last week said the importation of animal hides into Australia is permitted 'under specific conditions'.

However, In this case the hides were found not to meet Australia's biosecurity import conditions and the majority of the hides had now been destroyed under quarantine supervision.

The statement acknowledged that untanned or insufficiently treated animal hides pose a risk for the introduction of pests and diseases.

However, it said DAFF believed the likelihood of any of the hides being directly exposed to susceptible animals was low, but the matter was still subject to investigation.

On the issue of whether the consignments should have been picked up by inspectors, DAFF said the sheer volume of consignments into Australia meant it was impossible to examine every one.

“DAFF cannot and should not inspect all goods, vessels and people at the border,” the statement said.

“1.7 million consignments of sea cargo arrive in Australia each year.  Consignments are inspected when the declared goods are considered to be high risk, or where intelligence and analysis indicates that the supplier or importer may not be complying with Australia’s biosecurity requirements.

“Biosecurity is important. It protects Australia’s human, animal and plant health by reducing the risk of unwanted pests and diseases arriving in the country and damaging our agricultural productivity and environment.

“We take breaches of biosecurity seriously and have the capability and capacity to deal with them off shore, at the border and onshore.”

The DAFF statement also alluded to what it described as inaccuracies in some reports about the issue.  

"There have been some inaccuracies in recent media reporting, as there was no evidence of product spoilage or spillage at the quarantine-approved cold store and the hides did not thaw or deteriorate during transfer to the alternative cold store.

“DAFF inspected the premises comprehensively, ordering a clean up as a conservative precaution only."

Cattle Council of Australia told Beef Central it wasn't aware of the specific details of the case, and it was up to the authorities to deal with specific biosecurity issues.

“However it highlights the need for continued and more substantial investment in ensuring that biosecurity and import quarantine standards are met."

DAFF is urging anyone with information about breaches of Australia’s biosecurity requirements can contact DAFF on the redline reporting number 1800 803 006.


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