Australia’s defences against a potentially devastating African swine fever (ASF) breach have been tested during a month-long operation by biosecurity officers targeting travellers from high-risk countries affected by the disease.
Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said Operation Conway was a saturation exercise that involved the screening of all passengers and crew from identified flights for pork products and other biosecurity risk material.
“In all, 1021 passengers and crew were screened using a combination of x-ray, manual inspection and detector dogs across five flights originating from countries with confirmed cases of African swine fever,” Minister McKenzie said.
“Twenty-eight infringements and 17 written warnings were issued during the operation with 44 kilograms of risk products seized, including 12kgs of pork, chicken and beef products.
“A number of pork products that were seized were sent for ASF testing, with 22 per cent returning a positive result.
“African swine fever is not present in Australia and our government is determined to keep it that way, to protect our agriculture industries, our environment and our reputation as one of the world’s most sought after suppliers of safe, clean and green food and fibre.
“African swine fever would have a substantial impact on Australia’s $5.2 billion pork industry and the 34,000 jobs that depend on it in rural and regional communities.
“There’s no vaccine and no cure and it kills about 80 per cent of the pigs it infects, so this exercise aimed to test the performance of current controls to deter the illegal importation by travellers of African Swine Fever risk products.
“During October, Operation Conway saw dedicated teams of biosecurity officers deployed across four states and locations – Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin – supported at the border by colleagues from Australian Border Force.
“The operation show us that despite the risk to Australia some people are still doing the wrong thing and bringing in products that could cause an outbreak here.
“The levels of non-compliance and other intelligence gathered in this operation are used to refine profiling as well as to inform the sorts of screening activities we undertake so we can make sure we have the best measures in operation to protect Australia from this terrible disease.
“As well as heightened screening for pork products at airports and mail centres, our government has strengthened compliance action at the airport which has resulted in a significant increase in the number of infringement notices being issued.
“We have also redeployed detector dogs to Cairns and Darwin, and placed ASF signage at international airports to ensure passengers declare all pork items.”