Australians who want to continue the ban on beef imports from so-called “mad cow” countries are pinning their hopes on getting a federal Senate inquiry going to challenge the government’s decision-making on the issue.

australian_flag.jpgAustralia’s government announced in late October that it would lift the ban based on a scientific study that found there would be an extremely low risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) so long as proper safeguards are in place.

The decision to end the ban was rolled out by Australia’s ministers of trade, agriculture, and health after the review was wrapped up.  The United States, European Union, Canada, and Japan had all asked Australia to review the ban, which could be subjected to future trade actions if it is left in place.

Australians who favor the ban are demanding a Senate inquiry and asking how opening its borders to more foreign beef squares with the country’s “clean green” image. 

Ian McIvor, who chairs the industry’s Red Meat Advisory Council, says opponents to lifting the ban are making two charges that just are not true.   First, McIvor says no diseased foreign beef will be allowed to enter Australia.  Foreign suppliers will have to meet strict protocols that are BSE- or Mad Cow-specific.  Second, McIvor says there is no way Australia will be “flooded with imported beef.”

Prior to the ban being imposed in 2004, McIvor says the U.S. sold 34 tons of beef in Australia, while Australia sold 280,000 tons in the U.S and 980,000 tons worldwide.

Those wanting to keep the ban, however, say the government only listened to groups like the Red Meat Advisory Council, the Cattle Council, and SAFEMEAT.  They point to the fact that the industry has favored lifting the ban since 2005.

Australia up to now has been a BSE-free continent, giving it an advantage in global markets, according to some who want to keep the ban.  Others say trade bans just limit markets for Australian beef.

Australia made its move just before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Singapore, which are set for Nov. 16-18.   APEC leaders are setting up numerous meetings while they are in the region and beef will be on the agenda.