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Agricultural council endorses meat inspection changes

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The cost of meat inspection for domestic abattoirs will be cut by at least a quarter following a decision made at a meeting of Agriculture ministers in Sydney today.

The chairman of the Australian Agricultural Council, Primary Industries and Energy Minister, Simon Crean, announced that the Council had endorsed the - recommendations of a Commonwealth-State expert task force, which had reviewed intensively domestic inspection requirements.

The changes agreed to by the Council will cut the cost of meat inspection by between 25 and 30 per cent, while maintaining the standards necessary to achieve the fundamental objective of the protection of human health, Mr Crean said.

On the basis of its review, the task force recommended a number of changes which can be implemented by industry and the various inspection authorities both in the short term and, after appropriate trials, in the medium term as well.

The modifications are based on a review of scientific literature, public health statistics, data on the prevalence of disease in animals at slaughter in Australian abattoirs and other relevant information.

In the short term, the industry will be permitted to cany out certain inspection activities, such as examination of offals of young animals for pathology, under arrangements approved by the relevant authorities.

"It has also been decided to design, develop and trial a more comprehensive quality assurance approach for introduction by industry under government supervision," Mr Crean said.

"The Meat Research Corporation has agreed to fund the first stage of this project."

Quality assurance arrangements were based on documentation of necessary procedures, appropriate training of industry operators, trialing before approval, and a firm sanctions policy to ensure compliance.

Mr Crean emphasised that the quality assurance approach placed responsibility for meat quality more squarely with industry, without in any way abrogating the ultimate responsibility of government to ensure that public health is protected.

"Adoption of quality assurance systems is a world-wide trend in food producing industries," he said, COMMON PARLIAMENT-

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"Industry quality assurance with government auditing, already underpins Australia's export trade in fish and dairy products, and is being introduced progressively in the export meat sector."

Mr Crean said that the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service had consulted staff associations, industry and consumer representatives in the development of the new approach and would continue consultations in the implementation phase.

Inquiries: Bob Biddle, DP IE, (06).272 5364 Barbara Sharp, Minister's Office. (06) 277 7520.