Tougher penalties could be on the cards for international travellers failing to declare plant and animal matter they bring into Australia following the detection of foot and mouth disease in goods that were being brought into the country.
Fines, possibly criminal prosecution, court proceedings and being denied entry to any traveller recommitting an offence are all options on the table under a ‘‘new attitude’’ to enforcement by the Department of Agriculture.
The action follows confirmed detections of both African swine fever and also foot and mouth disease — considered the biggest threat to Australia’s agriculture — in meat confiscated at airports by Department of Agriculture staff.
Studies have estimated $50billion of economic losses over 10 years if there were large to medium outbreaks of FMD in Australia.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said his office would work with the office of Minister for Immigration David Colemans to explore ways to refuse entry to any traveller who was caught a second time.
The VFF has welcomed the steps to increase penalties and called for increased investment in biosecurity monitoring.
‘‘We only need one infected product to go undetected to jeopardise our whole industry,’’ VFF president David Jochinke said.
The department will also look at ways to penalise and prosecute those bringing plant and animal risk material into Australia through the mail and to stop those sending this material to Australia.
‘‘I won’t tolerate travellers risking Australian farming. No light touches or slaps on the wrists,’’ Mr Littleproud said.
‘‘My job is to look after Australia and its farmers, not pander to political correctness. Our farming and food security need to be protected and I don’t care if someone has to wait an extra few minutes at an airport.’’
FMD is present in many Asian countries including China but is not present in our 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 new penalties come after declared and seized pork jerky, sausages and pork products were collected over two periods — December 3 to December 16, 2018 and January 21 to February 3, 2019 — and sent to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory for testing.
During both periods, ASF virus fragments were detected in seized products with further testing carried out on the products collected during the second period to assess the risk of FMD.
Two samples out of 283 were found to be contaminated with FMD virus fragments with one further sample being inconclusive.
The two positive FMD samples and one inconclusive sample were from products declared by passengers.