Australia’s BSE ban officially lifted

In a move of greater symbolic than commercial importance for Canadian beef exporters, Australia has officially lifted its ban on imports of beef from countries rated “controlled risk” for BSE.

The Australian government first announced the move in October last year, for an implementation date of March 1, 2010 (Monday).

That said, the big day’s arrival does not immediately lay Australia’s ports open to beef from “controlled risk” countries such as Canada or the U.S.

Under the new policy, according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), “certain beef and beef products may be imported from countries that apply and are assessed by Australian authorities as being able to demonstrate they have in place, and appropriately monitor, controls necessary to ensure that beef and beef products exported to Australia are derived from animals free of BSE.”

As well, countries that already export beef and beef products to Australia under the previous policy can continue to do so, but will also be subject to a risk assessment under the new policy, FSANZ said Monday.

Beef or beef products may continue to be imported into Australia from those countries after June 30, 2011 if an application for assessment as “Category 1” or “Category 2” has been submitted to the Australian BSE Food Safety Assessment Committee, and if no new BSE-risk factors are reported by the country during this period.

“Willingness to engage”

Countries wishing to export beef and beef products to Australia must apply to the Australian BSE committee for assessment, which means filling out Australia’s Questionnaire to Assess BSE Risk.

The committee said it would prioritize requests for assessments, largely based on an applicant’ recent history of exporting beef and beef products to Australia, as well as “completeness of data; willingness to engage in an in-country inspection, general history of trade and knowledge of infrastructure and veterinary services.”

FSANZ then runs a risk assessment for the committee’s review, which then goes into a draft report to the applicant country for a 60-day comment period.

“At this time, verification of in-country control measures, if deemed required by the committee, is undertaken through an in-country inspection by Australian government officials,” FSANZ said. “Evidence obtained during the in-country inspection will be considered by the committee prior to completing the assessment.”

When it first decided in October last year to open its ports Monday, Australian officials noted that the policy change “will not affect Australia’s animal health status which is recognized by the (World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE) as being in the most favourable category of ‘negligible risk.’ It will not diminish our ability to export beef to the world.”

Obligations

John Masswohl, director of governmental and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, noted at the time that the move is important for Australia’s domestic beef industry.

Until now, under Australia’s World Trade Organization obligations, if there were a case of BSE in any part of Australia, its previous policy would have required all Australian beef to be removed from the shelves.

And Australia’s beef producers have for some time known that they don’t want to feel the impact of their government’s policy if BSE were ever to turn up there, Masswohl said.

Ottawa would now have to formally request that Australia recognize Canada’s controlled-risk status for BSE as per OIE standards.

From an export perspective, Australia was not a major customer for Canadian beef even before Canada found its first BSE-positive cow in 2003.

All that said, “we’ve felt it’s been very important for Australia to take this step” in terms of its symbolism for Canada’s other trading partners, Masswohl said last fall.

Specifically, he said, if Australia recognizes controlled risk, “what does that say to the Koreas, the Japans and other countries we’ve been trying to get to change (their policies)?”

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