Aus should allow beef imports from US and Japan: Dept review

James Nason, 12/09/2017

Australia should permit beef imports from the United States, Japan and the Netherlands, a Federal Government review has concluded.

The three countries requested access to Australia’s beef market in 2015, triggering a risk assessment and review process by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR), taking into account biosecurity and food safety considerations.

Two other international suppliers already approved to export beef to Australia – New Zealand and Vanuatu – were also included in the same DAWR review process.

The Department has now completed its final report , concluding that imports of chilled and frozen beef imports from the US, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Vanuatu should be permitted into Australia, subject to compliance with specified risk management measures.

Australia will require that listed establishments in each country have Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point Quality Assurance plans (HACCP-based QA plans), and have verified bacteriological testing programs equivalent to Australia and meeting Australian standards.

Still more steps before trade can commence

A DAWR spokesperson told Beef Central there were still some steps to be completed before trade can commence.

The completion of the risk assessment process does not automatically allow trade to commence from the relevant countries, the spokesperson said.

A number of checks and balances still had to be completed before that can happen:

  1. The animal health systems and production and processing controls in the applicant countries are now being assessed, and imports will only commence if the risks can be safely managed to a very low level that is consistent with Australia’s biosecurity policies.
  2. Following finalisation of the risk advice from FSANZ, the department will propose risk management measures to manage any identified food safety risks.
  3. Bilateral certification arrangements will then need to be agreed between Australia and the exporting country.

“Where each of these requirements is met, any trade will be a commercial decision,” the DAWR spokesperson said.

“No set timeframe applies to the completion of steps one to three above, and the timeframes will vary from country to country.”

DAWR said some changes were made in the final report in response to submissions received from interested stakeholders in response to the draft report released in December 2016. DAWR said these changes improved the technical accuracy of the report, but did not change the conclusions of the draft review.

The DAWR said that if new scientific information becomes available, it can be provided to the department for consideration after a risk analysis has been completed. “The department will consider information provided and, if appropriate, review import requirements based on the new scientific information”.

‘Zero-risk approach impossible’

The Department report said that while Australia’s reputation as a safe and reliable trading nation had significant economic, environmental and community benefits for all Australians and was important to protect, it was also impossible to take a “zero risk approach” to imports.

“Zero risk is impossible; it would mean no tourists, no international travel and no imports of any commodities. Australia invests heavily in biosecurity to ensure risks are managed to the lowest possible level,” the DAWR report said.

“Australia exports almost two thirds of its agricultural produce. The future of our agriculture and food industries, including their capacity to contribute to growth and jobs, depends on Australia’s capacity to maintain a good plant and animal health status.

“Australia accepts imports only when we are confident the risks of pests and diseases can be managed to achieve the appropriate level of protection (ALOP) for Australia.”

International trade obligations

International trade obligations under the World Trade Organisation meant each WTO member was entitled to maintain a level of protection appropriate to protect human, animal or plant life or health within its territory, but also could not “arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate” between WTO members, or use these protections as disguised restrictions on trade.

Australia’s “Appropriate level of protection” (ALOP) is defined in the Biosecurity Act 2015 as: “a high level of sanitary and phytosanitary protection aimed at reducing biosecurity risks to very low, but not to zero”.

‘This definition has been reached with the agreement of all state and territory governments and recognises that a zero risk stance is impractical because this would mean Australia would have no tourists, no international travel and no imports,” the DAWR said.

The biosecurity report released in December, covering 10 animal diseases, found that the biosecurity risk from each disease was considered “negligible and achieved Australia’s ALOP (Appropriate Level of Protection) with respect to animal biosecurity risks.”

The US and Japan have both formerly reported cases of BSE. FSANZ has categorised both countries since 2015 as Category One risk status, meaning they have “comprehensive and well-established controls to prevent both the introduction and amplification of the BSE agent in a country’s cattle population, and contamination of the human food supply with the BSE agent”.

Any food imported to Australia must also satisfy Australia’s food laws, which must meet the standards set out in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, adhere to the food laws of each state and territory, and meet the requirements of the Imported Food Control Act 1992.

US last had access 15 years ago

The US was last able to export chilled and frozen beef to Australia 15 years ago, before a BSE detection caused its access to be withdrawn.

When US beef was eligible to enter Australia, it rarely did enter due to the freight cost and subsequent lack of price competitiveness.

US chilled beef exports to Australia never exceeded 100 tonnes a year, mostly making ‘opportunistic’ appearances on Australian retail shelves during the 1980s and 1990s.

Trade was typically restricted to short windows when unusual currency movements, and production cycles, up or down, in both countries made the trade commercially viable.

The earlier trade was limited mostly to a handful of harder-to-shift specific cuts, like rumps, that tended to stockpile in the US, before being offloaded into the Australian market. Most tended to be sold in bulk, whole primal form, and often not identified as US in origin.

However, the current combination of lower US cattle prices in response to a significant post-drought herd recovery and cheaper feed grains, and higher Australian cattle prices, may create an commercial environment more conducive to US imports.

Red meat leaders say flood of imports unlikely

Red meat industry leaders contacted by Beef Central today said they are not expecting the impending opening of Australia’s market to these countries to result in a flood of imported beef.

Industry groups made substantial recommendations throughout the inquiry process and said the final report’s recommendation was not unexpected.

Industry representatives said that global trade was a two-way street, and it was unrealistic for Australia as an export-dependent trading nation to deny countries that took Australian product under certain conditions the same access to our market under similar conditions.

Prawn experience still fresh in industry minds

However, the red meat industry is also extremely conscious of the recent biosecurity breakdowns caused by prawn imports that crippled Australia’s prawn farming industry.

Red Meat Advisory Council independent chair Don Mackay said it was essential the Federal Government deploys the right amount of people and funding to ensure imported product can be properly managed and risks are as low as they need to be.

“We’re very conscious of what happened with the prawn industry and there is no doubt that the industry is watching very closely the performance of the government in regard to this,” he said.

Asked if Australian beef producers should expect a flood of beef to enter under new import arrangements, Mr Mackay said the reality was likely to be something “significantly less than that”.

“I have been asked questions around the cost and value of Australian beef currently versus other potential importers,” he said.

“It is a long time between now and when any meat might come in, so we don’t know exactly what that comparative might be at the time

“But these countries have all got markets for their product today. It will only come here if in fact there is a considerable economic and commercial reason to do it.

“I don’t think we need to be jumping to conclusions about this yet.

“We’re obviously as a whole industry making sure we put the government on notice in terms of all the concerns and protocols that need to be in place are properly funded and put in place before any product enters the country.”

High-end product from Japan perhaps most likely

Australian Meat Industry Council CEO Patrick Hutchinson said the Department had kept industry informed through the process, and biosecurity officials were confident they had the necessary bases covered.

He said the level of trade that follows would ultimately come down to how advantageous exporting countries see the Australian market.

“It is one thing getting access, but obviously then having products to compete in our market is another thing.

“What we may see is specific products coming in, it is not going to be open slather on sausages or boneless product, it might be very specific products and it has got to be advantageous for people sending it.”

AMIC’s assessment suggested that the most likely trade to flow once countries gain market access would be high-end beef from Japan.

“We are just assessing at the moment, through that assessment we think that would be the initial product coming in,” Mr Hutchinson said.



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  1. Marea Lerade, 12/01/2019

    I came to this site while googling in reference to a book called Cowed. It was published in 2015, At that stage US slaughterhouse inspections were required, but Federal funding was too low to employ enough inspectors to adequately inspect the tens of thousands of slaughters every day. USDA policies for monitoring and plans to manage mad cow infections were also dismal. As an Australian beef producer, I believe importing US beef would impose undue risk on my livelihood. As all US decisions on managing their beef industry are based on profits, then I am sure US beef producers will accept Australia’s decision to keep a clean, healthy cattle herd.

  2. DAle Knuth, 15/09/2017

    Like Equine Influenza and prawn white spot just to name two? Australian meat producers have to jump through hoops with regulation to keep our product desease free- our system is said to be the envy of the world with regard to traceback. And now?

  3. Steve Barnes, 13/09/2017

    Sam Burgess is right , if we want to sell to these markets we have to expect to allow meat from them into our market . If ! they meet our import requirements. The US has to meet similar requirements to us when we both export to other markets . So it is reasonable to expect they can meet Australian Bio Security requirements the government lays down. I remember in the late 80’s US product all over the wholesale markets in Syd, Melbourne and Brisbane and the world didn’t end. and this was when Bio Security was as well understood as it is today.

  4. Joanne Rea, 13/09/2017

    Why is everyone concentrating on BSE. Both Holland and Japan have had Foot and Mouth outreaks in the last five years or so. That is a highly contageous disease and has the potential to do us untold harm. This is what we need to be asking questions about.
    The quantity is irrelevent. There will always be a trendy restaurant that wants to advertise a trendy product.

  5. DONALD BROWN, 12/09/2017

    well Sam Burgess it would appear that we have been able to export plenty of meat for plenty of years without the need to let meat in from these countries so why change now. Are they going to have an equivalent NLIS system to Australia?

  6. Eion John McAllister, 12/09/2017

    Just have a glance at the Australian Pork industry and the level of Australian produced product that is involved versus the imported volumes used in small goods etc. It would seem that despite being one of the most efficient industries in the world it was still hammered into a pale shadow of its former self by the relaxation of import requirements years ago. The talking heads were assuring everyone that sources from subsidised countries would not impact negatively on the Australian industry. Seems to smell of the same recipe to me. Time will tell but I have a feeling that it is reaching the point where imported product will be competitive in the Australian market and will be used as a lever to limit costs for large supermarkets.Being able to have an alternative supply must have a limiting influence on the price that they will be willing to pay and that will mean that there will be impacts on the market situation here. Read the US Beef Industry press and there is huge encouragement for US beef exports to improve the profitability and volumes of export beef products. I am sure there will be much more in this story in the months and years ahead.

  7. Bruce Roberts, 12/09/2017

    Australian cattle producers have to jump through so many hoops to be the safest meat producers we can be.
    Some people think it is the greatest idea to import meat products from other countries putting our bio-security at risk.
    Who is going to take the BLAME when an exotic disease breaks out in Australia. DUMB! DUMB! DUMB!

  8. Sam Burgess, 12/09/2017

    Australia can’t have it both ways. If want to export our product which we need to do as we produce more than we can ever use here. We have to give access to other suppliers or they can quite rightly say no to us.

  9. Stan Emmon, 12/09/2017

    Australian farmers have enough stress on them without this additional worry. No support for Australian farmers, shame on this panel for even thinking to expose our people to an untreatable disease as mad cow. Who are the people making these decisions for farmers and the Australian people. Obviously not Australian farmers. Easy to sit behind a desk and destroy farming lives. Shame shame shame.

  10. Stan Emmon, 12/09/2017

    Why would we want to import beef when our clean food is second to none?

  11. Stan Emmon, 12/09/2017

    So, now that we can no longer feed ourselves and rely on importing near all our food, we will be exposed to mad cow disease. Good one. Not.

    Thanks for your message Stan. Just to clarify your point about this decision possibly exposing Australians to risk of mad cow disease (BSE), our understanding from information provided by Cattle Council of Australia is that unlike white spot in prawns, BSE in cattle is not contagious. It can only be contracted if cattle eat infected Specified Risk Material (such as brains and spinal cord), which is why all countries now ensure SRM removal and destruction and have banned the feeding of meat and bone meal to cattle. Provided the beef is derived from bovine animals born, bred, raised and slaughtered in internationally accepted Category 1 countries and have passed ante-mortem and post-mortem veterinary inspection under official veterinary supervision, it would be equivalent in safety to the beef produced in Australia. Importing beef from Category 1 countries with sound, approved, audited systems at least equivalent to ours will not represent any additional increase in our risk of finding typical BSE in this country. – Editor

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