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Australia adopts 'zero tolerance' to illegal meat imports

8th Nov 2019 / By Alistair Driver

Australia is showing a welcome 'zero tolerance' approach to the risk of African swine fever (ASF) being spread via illegally imported meat products. 

Bridget MckenzieTwo individuals from Vietnam who failed to declare they were bringing meat products into the country have been deported over the past few weeks.

According to a report in Pork Business, a 60-year-old Vietnamese tourist carrying 4kg of pork-filled mooncakes was deported after failing to declare he was carrying food into Sydney International Airport. He will not be eligible to travel to Australia for three years.

And last month, 45-year-old woman from Vietnam had her tourist visa cancelled after she arrived at the same airport with undeclared food in her luggage, including 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) of pork. She was sent home to Vietnam and banned from returning to Australia for three years.While, the NPA welcomed the initiative, which is set to be repeated at a different airport, the contrast with Australia is stark. 

The NPA has repeatedly called on the UK border authorities to adopt a more robust approach to preventing illegally imported meat getting into the UK and potentially sparking a devastating ASF outbreak. In October, UK Border Force used sniffer dogs to perform targeted checks on passengers travelling from high risk countries to Heathrow airport in a four-day exercise witnessed by Defra Minister Lord Gardiner and Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss.

In the first eight months of the year, Australian border officials confiscated 27 metric tons of pork products at Australian airports. The country's Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie (pictured) revealed that a recent round of testing found nearly 50% of pork products seized from air travellers tested positive for ASF.

In April, Australian migration laws were amended to shorten or cancel a visitor visa for biosecurity reasons and the importation of objectionable goods. Australia has also banned the import of pig products from countries infected with ASF.

Ms McKenzie said the Government was adopting ‘zero tolerance’ for travellers who intentionally do the wrong thing and lie about what they are carrying. “If pork products carrying the virus get past our border, are eaten by family and friends and the leftovers fed to pigs then we’ll be in a world of pain,” she said.

Australia is on even higher alert after the disease was detected recently in nearby East Timor, where Australian veterinarians are working with local authorities on an eradication plan. Sniffer dogs now examine luggage on direct flights from the East Timorese capital Dili to the northern Australian city of Darwin to prevent contamination.

The Australian pig sector fears the disease could be transmitted via air passengers traveling through Melbourne and Sydney’s airports, or spread through the feral pig population which is 10 times the size of its domestic pig herd, ABC News reported.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “This really shows what can be done. We welcome signs that the UK border authorities are taking the ASF risk more seriously, but we believe the UK should at least be matching what Australia is doing in terms of proactively detecting and then testing illegally imported meat products. Deporting people who have put the entire pig industry at risk sends out the right signal.

“One are area of frustration is the availability of sniffer dogs – only two are deployed by the border authorities across the country and that is nowhere near enough. If the Government won’t provide more, we believe there are more sniffer dogs out there that could be deployed from private security firms and the military, given the seriousness of the ASF threat.”

To see the NPA's recently updated ASF briefing, click here

To visit our dedicated ASF section, click here