Australia alters food safety guidelines for imported beef

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 21st October 2009

Australia is adjusting its imported food policy settings for beef and beef products, with controversial changes to come into effect from 1 March, 2010.An update of the science of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), mad cow disease, and consideration of the risks associated with importing the beef and beef products was undertaken by Professor John Mathews to guide the alterations. Professor Mathews’ report concludes that the risk to human health from imported beef remains extremely low, provided the appropriate risk mitigation strategies are put in place.

As such, Australia will now permit beef imports from countries where there have previously been outbreaks of BSE. However, all products will be subject to food safety checks.

“We have no intention of compromising our food standards,” a government statement advised. “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.”

“In reaching this decision, the Government consulted with a wide range of interested health stakeholders and no concerns were raised.”

When BSE was reported in a number of European countries in 2001, Australia implemented blanket measures to protect the food supply. At that time, policy was amended to prohibit imports of beef products immediately from any country that had reported any case of BSE.

Since then, there have been significant advances in knowledge and changes in practice in managing beef herds and food production. This has allowed countries to trade beef and beef products safely, according to the Federal Government.

“The independent review of the scientific evidence, mentioned above, 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,” the government said.

“Until now, under our World Trade Organization obligations, if there were a case of BSE in any part of Australia the current policy would require all Australian beef to be removed from the shelves. The new policy provides a better outcome for both our domestic and export industry allowing a more sensible risk-based regional response to be made.”

“The change will not affect Australia’s animal health status which is recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health as being in the most favourable category of “negligible risk”. It will not diminish our ability to export beef to the world.”

They added that a number of countries had been looking to gain access to the Australian market, with a thorough risk assessment to now be carried out by FSANZ.

The Opposition has outlined fears about the move, suggesting that any BSE case here in Australia, even if it is found to be imported, would severely damage our reputation in the key markets of Japan and Korea.