Safety not politics: Australian meat sector wants food safety to be depoliticised

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

The traditional meat industry in Australia has urged for the handling of food safety and biosecurity issues to be kept separate from politics in the country. ©Getty Images
The traditional meat industry in Australia has urged for the handling of food safety and biosecurity issues to be kept separate from politics in the country. ©Getty Images

Related tags Australia Meat Food safety

The traditional meat industry in Australia has urged for the handling of food safety and biosecurity issues to be kept separate from politics in the country, following public concerns over cattle diseases as well as the government’s new National Biosecurity Strategy launch.

The concerns were primarily triggered by reports of cattle disease outbreaks including foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) in Indonesia, one of Australia’s major partners, which prompted various reactions in the Australian government ranging from calls to help Indonesian cattle farmers to calls to shut Australian borders to Indonesian travellers.

The issue has been increasingly used as means for political leaders to take particular stances – a situation that has triggered the ire of the Australian meat sector, arguably the people with the most at stake in the situation.

“The meat industry, and the Australian government, have been working together on the prevention of incursion of emergency animal diseases in Australia, not just from Indonesia, but from other nations as well,”​ Austalian Meat Industry Council CEO Patrick Hutchinson told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“There are many incursions of FMD worldwide, with many countries having managed the diseases as endemic over decades, and some only just starting, such as Indonesia [and] Australia’s measured response [is] necessary in order to maintain strong relations with Indonesia, who need to manage this outbreak with our assistance, not our intervention.

“Unfortunately, there are many people making unsubstantiated claims on food supply, industry compensation and other issues - and this is not helping the Australian or Indonesian meat and livestock industry.

“The continual politicisation of biosecurity in the media is unhelpful [and what we need to do is] trust the subject matter experts [and] allow them to progress their work.”

Hutchinson stressed that the meat industry were supportive of the government’s new National Biosecurity Strategy – a ten-year strategy covering biosecurity measures against various pests, weeds and diseases – but reiterated that this needs to be implemented properly and not be politicised either.

“We need to remember [biosecurity] is about more than just visible measures like sniffer dogs and sanitation mats at airports,”​ he said.

“[We] must be proactive and not reactive [including to] ensure that our biosecurity strategy is supported by all levels of government in Australia regardless of political affiliation [as] it needs to be well planned and well-funded, today and in the future.

““Playing politics with Australia’s biosecurity is a risk to our economy, security and international reputation.”

Bad beef over beef

Newly-interred Agricultural Minister Murray Watt, who replaced his predecessor David Littleproud in May 2022, has announced that Australia will be providing A$1.5mn in support to Indonesia to handle its FMD outbreak, as well as a minimum of one million FMD vaccination doses.

This is in contrast to Littleproud’s previous take on the matter which included calling industry body calls to provide Indonesia with assistance ‘ignorant’.

It is also very different from right-wing politician Pauline Hanson’s calls for visitors from Indonesia to be barred from Australia, over claims that they could bring FMD into the country via tourist hubs such as Bali due to cattle roaming the streets and defecating on the grounds, which the humans would have contact with and then have their clothing and their ‘person’ contaminated, bringing FMD back into Australia.

Hanson’s has been lambasted by Indonesia for her comments, in particular Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno who called on her to stop being insulting.

“Firmly and with straightforwardness, I say, never insult Bali, Indonesia’s tourism icon and centre.Don’t disturb [our] peace, moreover our economic recovery, with [such] untruthful statements.”​ Sandiaga said in a social media posting.

“Oh yes, FYI (sic), Bali is not a country. Next time, please check it first in Google.”

But Hanson is not alone in this line of thought  – Opposition Leader Peter Dutton also recently urged the government to shut its borders to Indonesia due to FMD risks, although Australia’s Chief Veterinarian Mark Schipp has not recommended this move and many in the local meat industry are also fervently against it.

That is however not to say that a temporary food product ban may not be instated at some point – Australian Agriculture Department Secretary Andrew Metcalfe told officials at a recent Senate inquiry that a total ban is not yet out of considerations if things get worse.

“Significant actions [have been] taken in relation to food imported from Indonesia since the outbreak occurred, and many more categories of food unable to be imported - We are constantly reviewing the risk factors any food imports and making changes accordingly,”​ he said.

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