The Department of Agriculture has moved to assure the Australian public and agricultural sector that a reported “mistaken shipment” of live anthrax samples from the US to Australia seven years ago poses no threat to human or animal health here.
Over the weekend media reports emerged alleging live samples of anthrax were unintentionally transferred from the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah to 24 laboratories across the US and in Australia and South Korea.
Questions have been raised about possible flaws in US Army procedures to ensure that anthrax samples were made fully inert before shipping them to labs.
The Department of Agriculture says it is still investigating the issue and is yet to confirm if the alleged consignment of live anthrax did indeed arrive in Australia or the details of the laboratory to which it was allegedly sent.
“The Australian Government is working with US authorities to confirm these details. Given that this relates to a potential import from 2008, this may take some time to complete,” the DA said in a statement on Monday.
Live anthrax cultures are able to be imported into Australia for use in research in accordance with strict import conditions, including the requirement to have an import permit issued by the Department of Agriculture.
The Department of Agriculture said it could confirm that an import permit was issued in 2008 for the importation of live anthrax culture (bacillus anthracis) from the US military.
Import conditions included a requirement that the material be held and used at a Quarantine Approved Premises at Quarantine Containment level 3.
“There is no risk to human health in the Australian community under these circumstances and no cause for public concern,” the DA statement said.
“Anthrax is an infectious bacterial disease that can affect humans as well as animals. Occasional sporadic cases of anthrax occur in animals in Australia as the bacteria are present in the environment in certain areas of the country.”
“Australia has well established procedures to control these outbreaks.”