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Wednesday, 4 October 1989
Page: 1454

Mr TAYLOR(10.28) —In this place on 16 August you, Mr Deputy Speaker, raised the question of quarantine standards and disease-free animal imports. In particular, you referred to a concern from the Darling Downs Pork Producers Association in my electorate about the importation of uncooked frozen pig meat from Canada and the attendant risk of transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE) being introduced into this country.

On 31 August I wrote to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Kerin) seeking some assurances about the potential disease risks and the additional potential for an adverse economic impact on domestic producers. The Minister has not yet replied to this letter. In the event, on 5 September the Minister for Resources (Senator Cook) told the Senate that the decision to allow pigmeat from Canada would be made having regard to three points: the risk of entry of disease with uncooked Canadian pig meat, the cost of the disease to the Australian industry should it become established; and, finally, the commercial impact of imports on the domestic market. Senator Cook said:

The risk of disease being transmitted has been assessed scientifically at one in three million on the worst case scenario. I do not think that goes to what would then happen if a disease beat those odds and became established. That issue is under further scientific scrutiny; and when the results are in we will turn our minds to it.

However, only three days later, on 8 September, Mr Kerin, in a joint statement with Senator Cook, said that the Government was in a position to agree to Canadian uncooked pig meat being allowed to enter Australia.

Clearly, there is a division of opinion between the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) and some members of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) about the risk of TGE. AQIS has a report from the Australian Animal Health Laboratory which undertook tests to see whether the disease TGE could be transferred from pig meat to live pigs. The report says that it can be transferred but that the risk is one in three million, as I have said previously. Although this finding has been upheld by the AVA, the Australian Association of Pig Veterinarians has calculated a much higher risk, at about one in 15,000.

One of Australia's great advantages with pig meat exports is that we are free of TGE. The fact that we are willing to accept an imported risk, no matter how slight, is starting to affect our overseas markets. Pig producers were given similar assurances on the disease atrophic rhinitus when they previously protested about the import of pigs, but the disease is now endemic in some localities and is rapidly spreading across Australia. The quarantine issue has been intensified by the Government's adoption of the Lindsay report which recommended last year that quarantine should not be based on a no-risk policy but rather one of managed or acceptable risk. This has led to the Government agreeing to let food products, animals and plants into this country under its new `minimal risk' policy. The reason for the minimal risk policy, it is claimed, is to prevent Australia being accused under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade of using quarantine as a trade restriction. However, our GATT trading partners do not appear to follow the same policy.

I believe that the Government's decision is too hasty. At this stage the AVA is seeking a further independent assessment by a prominent epidemiologist, Dr Chris Baldock, and decisions should not be made until all reports are in and discussed with the industry. However, if the Government has made its decision it should be prepared to make TGE a compensatable disease so that, if the disease does come in, those affected will be compensated. It is interesting also to note that the chemical mecadox, which is banned in Australia, is still used in Canada. For this reason a check of pig meat coming into Australia would be wise, to put it mildly.

A second problem with Canadian pork, but not related to the quarantine issue, is whether any pig meat from Canada will be dumped. I understand that Canada has a stabilisation program which is financed by the federal and provincial governments and pig producers. Depending on the time of year, the subsidy can be as high as $A45 per head. Although no meat has yet arrived in Australia, the domestic pig price has started to drop at a time when traditional prices are on the rise due to the Christmas ham build-up. Clearly the issue needs to be re-thought by Minister Kerin, in particular.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Andrew) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.