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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2194


Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. A year after the Chernobyl power plant disaster, and with the real fear of contaminated goods reaching the food chain, I ask: Is the Minister aware that a decision has been taken by the British Government to continue restrictions on the movement and slaughter of sheep from contaminated areas in Wales, in particular from Cumbria and Snowdonia, and further to continue the monitoring of imported foods and checking of retail stores for foods that might have high radiation levels? Is the Minister also aware that food lines have been imported from countries that might have been affected by fallout with these goods finding their way on to supermarket shelves in this country? One example is a jam made from blackberries grown in Poland, Krakus, a product of Poland imported by an Australian firm. Has any action been taken to test any food imports for contamination? If so, is the testing for contamination still taking place, what foods were tested and what contamination has been found? Have any imports been halted from those countries that could have been affected by any fallout from Chernobyl?


Senator TATE —Honourable senators obviously will be aware that radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident covered many European countries including the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and this will affect certain foods, depending on where the fallout ends up in the edible portion of the food chain. Australia imports only one to 2 per cent of its foodstuffs from the potentially affected areas of Europe, including the USSR. Even so, a surveillance program was implemented on 3 July 1986 to check foodstuffs imported from these areas. This program involves the provision of certification giving caesium 137 concentrations from certain countries with a backup program of random sampling and testing of foodstuffs imported from all European countries.

A variety of foods has been checked in the surveillance program, including alcoholic beverages, vegetables, dried and preserved fruits, chocolates, jams-which was the example used in Senator Jones's question-herbs, olive oil, seafoods, nuts, cheese and cereals. The only foodstuffs in which levels exceeded the trigger level were hazelnuts, some herbs and a few cheeses. It is not expected that other types of foodstuffs would contain significant amounts of radioactivity.

The Health Department has evaluated the risks to the Australian population from consumption of these items and found these risks to be negligible. On this basis, permits for release of the items from custody by Customs have been granted. A surveillance program will continue until such time as it is demonstrated that the contamination levels in imported foodstuffs from the potentially affected countries are so low that continuation of the program is not warranted.