Australia is changing its policy regarding how it treats beef from countries that have reported bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in their herds. The new changes follow a review of current procedures and will go into effect March 1, 2010.
After BSE was reported in a number of European countries in 2001, Australia prohibited imports of beef products from any country that had reported a case of BSE. An update of the science of BSE and consideration of the risks associated with importing beef and beef products was undertaken by Professor John Mathews who concluded that the risk to human health from imported beef remains extremely low, provided the appropriate risk mitigation strategies are put in place. Mathews is an eminent scientist with 40 years experience as an epidemiological researcher. His report was peer reviewed and supported by expert scientists under the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies Advisory Committee. Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jim Bishop, was also consulted. A copy of the independent review is available at www.health.gov.au.
Until now, under Australia’s World Trade Organization obligations, if there were a case of BSE reported in Australia’s herd, current policy would require all Australian beef to be removed from the shelves. According to the country’s government, the new policy provides a better outcome for both Australia’s 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 recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health as being “negligible risk.”
Australia’s national beef organizations, including the Red Meat Advisory Council, which includes the Australian Meat Industry Council, Cattle Council of Australia, and the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association, support updating the BSE policy.
Countries requesting access to Australia’s beef market will be required to undergo a rigorous risk assessment led by Food Standards Australia New Zealand to ensure they have robust systems in place to prevent the BSE agent from entering the human food chain. The new import conditions will require exporting countries to prove they have acceptable controls in place, even if a particular country has not reported BSE, and demonstrate that those controls are implemented and monitored.
Australia’s government does not anticipate the new rules will lead to any significant increased level of beef imports into Australia due to the country’s strong competitive position in domestic and export markets for beef.
December 2009 RENDER | back