Zero tolerance: imported risks in luggage threatens Australian farming

International travellers failing to declare plant and animal matter they bring into Australia will face fines, possible criminal prosecution and/or court proceedings as a new attitude to enforcement is adopted in the Department of Agriculture. 

Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said his office would also work with the office of Minister for Immigration David Coleman’s to explore ways to refuse entry to any traveller who is pinged a second time.  

The Department of Agriculture will also look at ways to penalise and prosecute those bringing plant and animal risk material into Australia through the mail and to stop those sending this material to Australia. 

The action follows confirmed detections of both African Swine Fever and also dreaded Foot and Mouth Disease – considered the biggest threat to Australia’s agriculture – in meat confiscated at airports by Department of Agriculture staff.  

FMD can be transferred to animals through eating plant or animal matter or by coming into contact with the virus. Once the disease is established it would likely spread through close contact between animals, and also through the air over short distances, affecting sheep, cattle, deer, goats and pigs, causing them to fall extremely ill and develop blisters and painful lesions. 

Studies have estimated $50 billion of economic losses over ten years if there were large to medium outbreak of FMD in Australia. 

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FMD is present in many Asian countries including China but is not present in our closest neighbour, Indonesia. ASF is present in sub-Saharan Africa and some countries in Eastern Europe, in Belgium in wild boar and now also China and Mongolia.

“I won’t tolerate travellers risking Australian farming. No light touches or slaps on the wrists,” Minister Littleproud said. 

“My job is to look after Australia and its farmers, not pander to political correctness. Our farming and food security need to be protected and I don’t care if someone has to wait an extra few minutes at an airport.  

“I expect the Department of Agriculture to issue fines against any person who fails to declare meat in their luggage. We need a penalties-based system, not a warnings-based system. We need this issue to be taken seriously by travellers. 

“I’m not interested in excuses. If foot and mouth disease got to Australia it’d be a genuine disaster.  

“If you fill out the forms honestly you’ll have no problem. Only in highly unusual circumstances will it be acceptable to issue a warning rather than a fine.”

Australia remains free of both FMD and ASF.  

The Department of Agriculture ramped up screening and testing efforts last year when ASF was confirmed in China.  

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Background: 

  • Declared and seized pork jerky, sausages and pork products were collected over two periods – 3 December to 16 December 2018 and 21 January to 3 February 2019 and sent to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory for testing.
  • During both periods, ASF virus fragments were detected in seized product.
  • Testing confirmed six samples out of 152 contained ASF virus fragments in the first period, and that a further 40 samples out of 283 were contaminated with ASF virus fragments from the second period.
  • Further testing was carried out on the products collected during the second period to assess the risk of FMD. Two samples out of 283 have been found to be contaminated with FMD virus fragments with one further sample being inconclusive.
  • The two positive FMD samples and one inconclusive sample were from products declared by passengers.
  • These results do not change Australia’s ASF-free and FMD-free status.
  • Wherever possible, travellers who fail to declare will be issued with an infringement notice and fine for hundreds of dollars, for providing false or misleading information/IPC (Incoming Passenger Card) document.  These actions are recorded and form part of future intervention approach for targeting non-compliant travellers.
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