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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 11528

Beef Imports

(Question No. 484)

Mr Oakeshott asked the Minister for Trade, in writing, on 16 August 2011:

(1) Is he aware that data on the United States Department of Agriculture's website indicates that substantial quantities of beef and beef products have been exported to Australia since 2003.

(2) Is it a fact that beef or beef products have been imported into Australia from the United States of America (USA) since 2003.

(3) What is the Government's position on the threat of Bovine Spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) contaminated beef and beef products emanating from the USA, and how is the Government disseminating information to Australian consumers about the potential health threat this poses.

(4) What steps is the Government taking to curtail the importation of beef and beef products from the USA to protect consumers and encourage greater consumption of Australian grown, BSE-free beef.

Dr Emerson: The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Yes. Notwithstanding the US Department of Agriculture export statistics, the United States (US) Government has publicly confirmed that no US-sourced cattle, or fresh, chilled or frozen US beef has been exported to Australia since December 2003.

Australian official import statistics are the source of information on beef imports on which the Australian Government relies. These are based on documentation accompanying product cleared at the border. This is supported by import permit information held by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.

(2) Australia has not imported beef from cattle slaughtered in the US after December 2003.

There are valid import permits for beef that is processed in the US, but only where the beef is sourced from the following approved countries: Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Australia's import permits for these beef products set stringent conditions to ensure that beef from approved countries does not co-mingle in the production process with beef from the US.

(3) The Government will not permit the importation of BSE contaminated beef from any country.

(4) Australia has not imported beef from cattle slaughtered in the US after December 2003.

Under Australia's new BSE policy for imported beef, countries that have had one or more cases of BSE in their cattle herd (such as the US) can apply to be assessed for access to Australia's beef market. Applications to import beef will be assessed by Australian authorities under two procedures - a food safety risk assessment by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and an import risk analysis (IRA) by Biosecurity Australia for animal health issues.

Biosecurity Australia commenced a regulated IRA of all animal health issues (not just BSE) for beef and beef products from the US on 8 April 2010. Work on the IRA for beef and beef products from the US was paused on 4 February 2011 pending the US providing complete information on its cattle health status, beef production, inspection and certification systems. As at August 2011, this information has still not been provided.

FSANZ commenced a BSE food safety risk assessment in August 2010. Completion of the US assessment is on hold pending an in-country inspection of US beef production systems at a date yet to be agreed with the US authorities.