Janelle Saffin
Janelle Saffin

Beef industry review over imports

THE Productivity Commission is reviewing beef industry groups after complaints they failed to properly consult with members before agreeing to lift a ban on imports from countries affected by mad cow disease, Page MP Janelle Saffin said.

Ms Saffin said industry groups had, by and large, consulted with the farmers they represented, but the commission was reviewing the Meat and Livestock Association ‘and others’ after repeated complaints from members predating the recent mad cow debate.

On that issue, Ms Saffin stood by the plan to lift the ban, accusing Nationals senators Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash of whipping up a scare campaign that ignored the science.

Ms Saffin said no cow or human would be able to contract mad cow disease under the plan.

Research on the issue had found there was only a 0.002 per cent chance of mad cow-infected beef being brought into the country over more than a year. However, even if infected meat were accidentally imported, there was no risk of humans or cattle being infected.

Ms Saffin said the relaxation of beef import rules was part of a change in Australia’s approach to mad cow disease, officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, to account for scientific advances in understanding how it spread.

At present Australia had an amputation approach to the disease, where the beef industry would be shut down anywhere it was found.

It was now known this was not necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.

Ms Saffin said opposition to lifting the import ban was based largely on a lack of understanding of the science.

Those who did understand it backed the relaxation of import rules. One of those was Northern Co-operative Meat Company boss Gary Burridge, who spoke in favour of the change at a Senate hearing recently.

Ms Saffin said she was now taking every opportunity to meet graziers to discuss the relaxation and clear misconceptions – including attending a meeting of disgruntled producers at Kyogle on Thursday night.

Asked if she would withdraw her support for the change if most local beef producers still opposed it after meeting with her, Ms Saffin said there was already strong, if comparatively quiet, local support for relaxing beef import rules.

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