Australia’s government announced that it will lift its ban on beef imports from Britain and other countries that have had cases of mad cow disease. The decision stemmed from the results of a scientific study on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) that found that imported beef presented an extremely low risk to the public with proper safeguards in place.
“The independent review of the scientific evidence…indicates that it is possible to import beef from countries that have reported cases of BSE and maintain a high level of protection for the Australian public, provided the appropriate risk management mechanisms are put in place,” said Hon Simon Crean, the Australian Minister for Trade, in a joint release the Australian Ministers of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary for Health.
“We have no intention of compromising our food standards,” said Crean. “The new arrangements will not affect the Australian food standard which requires that beef and beef products be derived from animals free of BSE. This standard will not change and current enforcement measures will continue to apply.”
Countries who want access to Australia’s beef market must undergo “rigorous risk assessment” by Food Standards Australia New Zealand to ensure the proper systems are in place to prevent BSE agents from entering the food supply.
The government will consider a wide variety of factors when evaluating whether a beef system is acceptable including food safety, animal health, surveillance, feeding, and slaughter practices.
“As an added measure to ensure Australia’s food supply remains among the safest in the world, Australian officials may conduct in-country audits before imports are permitted,” added Crean.
Given Australia’s strong position in the global beef market, it is unlikely that the relaxed rules will lead to a significant flux of beef imports into the country, but the decision has been met with opposition from some Australian lawmakers and industry leaders.
Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan told Stock and Land, an Australian agriculture newspaper, the decision compromises Australia’s “unique position in the global beef market” as a BSE-free country. Heffernan sees enforcement troubles ahead for the new policy because the regulations require products be BSE-free but there is no accurate live test for the disease.