Farmers worried about import risk
THE North Coast’s $140 million-a-year cattle industry is being put at risk by the Rudd Government’s decision to lift beef import restrictions from mad cow-affected countries, Page National candidate Kevin Hogan said yesterday.
His comments follow a meeting of more than 1000 angry cattle farmers at Armidale last weekend who were worried the lifting of the ban would devastate their industry that employs about 200,000 people nationally.
“Under the Rudd Government rules, people won’t even know if their beef comes from a contaminated country because there is no requirement for country of origin labelling on beef,” Mr Hogan said.
“That not only poses a risk to consumers, but also to the image of our own beef which is the best and safest in the world.”
After two Senate committees the Federal Government last Monday lifted the nine-year ban on beef imports from countries exposed to BSE, or mad cow disease.
In what is shaping up to be alocal election issue Mr Hogan accused Page Labor MP Janelle Saffin of going to ground at a time when local farmers most needed her support.
“Australia’ beef capital, Casino, is in the Page electorate, yet Janelle Saffin has done nothing and said nothing against this threat,” Mr Hogan said.
“That is the sort of hypocrisy that gives career politicians like her a bad name.”
Ms Saffin did not return calls from The Northern Star yesterday, although she did find time to put out a press release welcoming Canberra’s new health policy.
Richmond Nationals candidate Tania Murdock also called on Richmond Labor MP Justine Elliot yesterday to cross the floor and vote in favour of the Coalition’s Private Members Bill that would force the Government to conduct a full import risk assessment before the restrictions were lifted.
Ms Elliot rejected the call, adding she fully supported the Government on the issue.
“We have made this change for a number of reasons: Because industry asked for it; because the science has moved on since 2001 when the old policy was put in place and shows it is safe; and it will ensure that Australia continues to uphold its international obligations,” she said.
However, the Armidale forum rejected claims farmers wanted the ban removed.
They accused the Meat and Livestock Association, the Cattle Council and the Red Meat Advisory Council of negotiating with the Government without consulting them.
None of the industry groups contacted by The Northern Star wanted to comment on the claims made in Armidale.
Still, it will be months before beef imports hit the shelves, with the country of origin needing to first make an application to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.
Trade Minister Simon Crean yesterday told Sydney broadcaster Allan Jones, who chaired the Armidale meeting which included about 100 farmers from around Kyogle, that no country had yet made an application.
Before the ban was introduced in 2001 following the outbreak of mad cow disease, the US exported an average 34 tonnes of beef a year to Australia. Australia exports about 280,000 tonnes of beef a year to the US.