VICTORIA’S peak farmer body has come out in support of refusing entry to travellers who are multiple offenders in failing to declare plant and animal material when entering Australia.
Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke yesterday called for increased investment in biosecurity monitoring at Australia’s borders and harsher penalties for those caught with prohibited animal and plant products.
The VFF call follows the Australian Government declaring international travellers who fail 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 yesterday confirmed that African Swine Fever and Foot and Mouth Disease virus fragments had been detected in declared and seized pork jerky, sausages and pork products in December last year and January-February 2019. Australia is currently free of FMD and ASF.
Mr Littleproud said his office would 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.
Neither the minister nor the Department of Agriculture has said what penalties or fines were imposed on those responsible for the diseased samples. But the minister’s “zero tolerance” statement said 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 will be recorded and form part of a future intervention approach for targeting non-compliant travellers. The department will also look at ways to penalise, prosecute and stop people bringing plant and animal risk material into Australia through the mail.
A departmental spokesperson said people who fail to declare biosecurity risk material have always been subject to infringements and prosecution.
“We are strengthening our approach to ensure that the issuing of infringements consistently reflects the seriousness of the breach, including breaches related to meat and meat products and specifically targeting:
o knowingly providing false or misleading information
o knowingly producing a false or misleading document (such as an Incoming Passenger Card)
The spokesperson said serious offences will still be dealt with through civil or criminal prosecution.
“For foreign travellers, proposed changes to legislation would enable border officials to refuse entry to Australia if someone repeatedly contravenes our biosecurity system.
“The two products that tested positive for FMD virus fragments were packets of Bologna sausage and these were declared,” the spokesperson said.
“The product with an inconclusive test result for FMD virus fragments was a dried pork snack and was also declared.”
Mr Jochinke said he “absolutely” supported refusing entry to multiple offenders and was concerned that no public example was being made of offending travellers.
“Either way, we would support a tougher stance on it and if that is one of the measures (entry refusal)….
“If they are unwilling doing it they need to get a fair slap on the wrist, but if they are willingly doing it, it needs to be escalated,” he said.
Mr Jochinke said meat samples having ASF and FMD was “acutely and extremely of concern to the industry.”
“Australia’s national biosecurity is critical for our food, beverage and tourism sectors.
“We have seen Foot and Mouth outbreaks in other countries and what it has done to their economies,” he said.
“We know 283 illegal pork products were detected at the border in a two-week period.
“Of these, 40 were infected with African Swine Fever and three with Foot and Mouth Disease,” Mr Jochinke said.
“We only need one infected product to go undetected to jeopardise our whole industry.
“We need more investment in Federal and State biosecurity controls and greater deterrence through harsher penalties for deliberate breaches of our import standards,” the VFF president said.
“We also need more education and tougher sanctions for travellers entering the country.”
Mr Johincke said the current penalties are “no more than a slap on the wrist”.
“They are an insult to Australia’s food, beverage, and tourism sectors when a Foot and Mouth outbreak could cost Australia close to $50 billion over ten years.”
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.
FMD is present in many Asian countries including China but is not present in Australia’s 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. The Department of Agriculture ramped up screening and testing efforts last year when ASF was confirmed in China.
Minister Littleproud said he wouldn’t tolerate travellers risking Australian farming.
“No light touches or slaps on the wrists.
“My job is to look after Australia and its farmers, not pander to political correctness,” he said.
“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,” Mr Littleproud said.
Mr Littleproud said the issue needed to be taken seriously by travellers.
“If Foot and Mouth Disease got to Australia it would be a genuine disaster.”
“If you fill out the forms honestly you’ll have no problem,” he said.
“Only in highly unusual circumstances will it be acceptable to issue a warning rather than a fine.”