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Thursday, 15 October 1970

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - Australia's $250m annual export trade with the United Stales is threatened by incredible bungling, incompetence and intrigue. Either the United States is bowing to organised political pressure and deliberately adopting practices to inhibit and frustrate Australian meat exports or else the Australian Government is guilty of gross neglect in being incapable of understanding, interpreting and implementing United States meat inspection standards. The problem can be stated as bluntly as that. An intolerable situation has arisen in which an increasing number of important Australian meat works are being removed from the American export list on the flimsiest of excuses without any known protest by the Federal Government. The Government steadfastly refuses to confront the United States to obtain justifiable reasons for the high-handed United States action in removing an unwarranted number of Australian meat works from the United States trade. One-quarter of Australian meat works licensed to export meat to the United States have now been deregistered by United States inspectors. lt is absurd to believe that suddenly there has been a widespread breakdown of hygiene and inspection standards throughout Australia. Similarly, it is equally absurd to believe that the United States Government has suddenly reached the profound decision that the health of the American people is in danger because of imports of Australian meat. It is known that powerful United States pressure groups, backed by influential members of Congress, are hell bent to limit or even eradicate imports of

Australian meat into the United States. Although there is no evidence of the United States inspectors in Australia vindictively abolishing export licences, many reasons for delisting must be classified as trivial. There is no doubt also that the upsurge of zealousness of United States meat inspectors in Australia is receiving the full support of the American meat lobby and those in the United States Congress who have vested interests in the cattle and meat industry. In addition to the powerful meat lobby, relentless pressure is being exerted against Australian imports by rival central and South American export interests.

United States authorities, in defence of their actions - this in fact could be true - state that they are not banning any Australian meat works because of political pressure. They stale that the present situation is due entirely to misinterpretation of United States inspection standards by Australian authorities. Reports from Washington show that United States inspectors in Australia do not always accept the credibility of Australian meat inspectors. If the United States claim is correct - and I say if it is correct - the blame for the present fiasco must be borne by the Federal Government. There is no excuse for continuous technical misinterpretations by Australia, which have now cost 27 meat works throughout Australia their export licences.

If Australia is unable to understand and implement US standards, it is a shocking indictment of Australian administrative authorities responsible for the interpretation and implementation of uniform US technical meat inspection standards. Because of the possibility of US escalation of the delisting of Australian meat works, the present complacent attitude of the Federal Government must be ended. Whether it be US political pressures or inefficient administration of standards in Australia, the Commonwealth has a responsibility to confront the United States wilh a demand for clear and unambiguous directions.

Livestock and meat interests in Australia are fully entitled to know the truth about this most delicately balanced meat export market which is of great economic importance to Australia. America takes almost 60 per cent of our total meal exports valued at over $250ra annually. The United States Wholesome Meat Act which was passed 2 years ago is the key to hygiene standards demanded by the US in Australia. The Federal Government has no alternative but to insist that these standards are implemented and rigorously applied. If in fact US inspectors are guilty of mischieviously delisting Australian works for no just cause then direct confrontation with the US should occur without hesitation. The pussyfooting by the Federal Government is costing Australian meat works millions of dollars annually and is leading to chaos in Australia's export trade with the US.

The US has an unfortunate habit of believing it can do anything better than anyone else and is inclined to look upon itself as 'the saviour of the world'. Official US reports on the standards of US meat works, however, suggest that a significant proportion of these are operating under shocking hygienic conditions inferior to most, if not all, of the meat exporting establishments in Australia that have been delisted by US inspectors. Apparently US authorities find it more convenient to wield the big stick and impose more rigorous hygiene standards in Australian meat works than they are prepared to impose in many of their own works in the US. Official Congressional reports reveal the frequent findings of rats and vermin infesting filthy US plants processing meat for human consumption.

There also needs to be a clear policy laid down for Australian meat works on meat held in storage or on the high seas after works have been delisted. If the US authories are going to condemn all meat emanating from a delisted meat works, even though some of this meat may have been slaughtered and inspected by Australian inspectors weeks before the delisting date, this type of action will certainly lead to the bankruptcy of the smaller meat exporters. To illustrate this point I refer to the case of Wyndham. Here is an extraordinary situation, in which part of a very large consignment was off-loaded without any trouble on the west coast of America. More of this Wyndham meat was off-loaded at Tampa in Florida, but when the considerable balance left in the ship reached Philadelphia the official axe fell, on various pretexts. The meat was given the axe and dumped immediately. What sort of a policy is this?

Meat works in Australia are in confusion. I use the term 'meat works' liberally because of the 27 which have been delisted 18 are slaughter houses and 9 are not. But the principle remains. What has to happen is that clear unambiguous directions have to be given by the Australian Government through its meat inspection services to Australian meat works. I am quite certain that almost every member of this Parliament who has a meat works in his electorate has had approaches or delegations from the authorities of meat works imploring them to try, for goodness sake, to get the Government to lay down some criteria which they can follow. At the present time United States meat inspectors and Australian veterinary surgeons have their own individual understanding of how these regulations apply, and these interpretations vary from meat works to meat works. We have seen in Victoria a meat works, which was considered to be of world standard, delisted with respect to the American trade. What we ask today is that at least the facts should be made known, the facts regarding the standards required by the US Government. These should be in clear unambiguous language so that meat works authorities in Australia can interpret and implement them, and at the same time our meat inspection standards should be enforced through our veterinary officers and meat inspectors, to comply with these rigorous provisions. Surely in this way there can then be no misunderstanding. If this escalation of delisting continues we will be faced with one unholy mess in our export trade with the US.

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