A stark warning on the serious implications of foot and mouth disease detected in trace amounts in pork products at a Melbourne market and undeclared beef product from Indonesia at Adelaide airport has been issued by Nationals Party MPs whose electorates are largely livestock producers.
Their warning includes a formal proposal to the national agriculture ministers' meeting last week to enforce full punishment for those breaching Australia's biosecurity measures with 10 years in jail and up to $5.5 million penalties.
The cautions came as agriculture minister, Senator Murray Watt, has remained resolute to keep the border to Indonesia open despite confirmations of a widespread FMD outbreak in the country
On Monday, Senator Watt assured Australia remains "FMD-free" citing biosecurity regulations have been tightened at entry point airports and seaports in Darwin, Adelaide, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne.
Mr Watt said in a media statement returning passengers from Indonesia are complying with the government's measures to keep Australia's $80 billion livestock industry protected from FMD.
Every incoming mail and package from Indonesia and China is being screened for meat products following FMD fragments detected in pork floss from China.
"As we have said all along, we believe the greater risk of FMD getting into Australia is via incorrectly or illegally labeled meat products from overseas," the agriculture minister said.
"We have now increased our surveillance of mail from Indonesia and China so that every parcel is screened and so we can identify any potential biosecurity risks.
"All up, our new measures mean we have the strongest response to a biosecurity threat in Australian history. We will continue to put more measures in place, in line with expert biosecurity advice, to keep this disease out."
But Parkes MP Mark Coulton, whose electorate covers large cattle and sheep farms in western NSW, has warned the Labor government that "now is not the time for complacency" as the risk of FMD entering Australia is "greater following escalating cases in Indonesia".
The highly contagious virus that affects cloven-hooved animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, deer and pigs was revealed by the World Organisation for Animal Health in May when it was discovered that 1,855 animals were confirmed affected with FMD on beef and dairy farms in Indonesia.
Indonesia recently confirmed 63 more cases in its popular tourist destination, Bali, thus Australia's frontline biosecurity officers have been enforcing strict protocols for all travelers arriving from Indonesia.
Australia's strict biosecurity protocols include preventing entry of high-risk materials, such as contaminated equipment or clothing, animals and animal products, being brought in by travellers who may have been exposed to diseased animals.
Mr Coulton said he supported the call from former agriculture minister David Littleproud, Maranoa MP and leader of the party whose electorate is also a vast cattle-producing region in Queensland, "to immediately ban passengers from bringing any food products into Australia from Indonesia."
On Monday, Mr Littleproud posted on his Facebook "a simple measure that'll protect us from FMD that the federal government should adopt [is to] ban passengers from Indonesia bringing any food products".
Mr Coulton followed through Mr Littleproud's position saying "the Labor government must look into stronger biosecurity measures to prevent this highly contagious disease from reaching our shores."
"We need to utilise 3D X-ray scanners which can detect organic matter and rapidly increase screening requirements for all passengers.
"[They] need to take this threat seriously and do more to protect our livestock industry and the Australian economy."
The NSW agriculture minister Dugald Saunders has also raised a potential "devastation" of the livestock industry across the state following a meeting with his fellow agriculture ministers last week where he pushed for "heightened border control".
"There is no doubt this is a stark reminder of why no stone should be left unturned. The NSW government has been vocal about the need to ramp up biosecurity measures and this incident emphasizes the importance of our position," Mr Saunders said.
"[This] included bag inspections for 100 percent of travelers returning from FMD-infected parts of the world. I also proposed a national industry-led approach to sheep and goat electronic identification which will play a critical role in our response to any biosecurity incursion."
One of the country's largest meat exporters, Fletchers International Exports, Dubbo, packages beef and sheep exporting to at least 90 countries.
Its owner and chief executive officer, Roger Fletcher, said he would support the proposal for tougher penalties for anyone found flouting Australia's biosecurity laws in the wake of FMD threats from Indonesia.
"I agree, we should penalise them.. If Indonesia cannot get all cattle and pigs inoculated, food should not be coming in now," Mr Fletcher said.
"We've got [reasons] to be alarmed. It's a very serious issue and we've got to do the best we can."
Mr Fletcher also suggested stringent biosecurity monitoring to include food products from Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Korea, China and African countries that have been listed among those countries frequently detecting FMD cases.
"That will put pressure on us [if these countries are not monitored]. It's another step closer [to having an FMD in Australia] so we got to keep them off. If everyone does their little bit, we will be right.
"We've always allowed packaged food products because that's been cooked, sterilised and packaged correctly but at times like this, we're better off saying don't bring in anything."
Mr Saunders said his office was advised of FMD and African swine fever presence in Australia during routine surveillance and testing of meat products in Melbourne and Adelaide.
Mr Saunders proposed full prosecution of people involved in any breach of Australia's biosecurity measures at the meeting with agriculture ministers last week.
Punishment would include up to 10 years imprisonment and up to a $1.1 million penalty for an individual and $5.5 million for corporations.
Mr Saunders said his proposal for heavy penalties for biosecurity breaches has "received unanimous support from other jurisdictions on this matter" thus he is now looking forward to presenting a national framework presented at their next meeting.
In February last year, parliament passed the Biosecurity Amendment Bill 2021 imposing up to $1.1 million penalties for breaches, while travelers would receive$2,994 infringement notice for contravening Australia's biosecurity laws.
An outbreak of white spot disease traced from uncooked imported prawns detected in Queensland in 2017 has led to the wipeout of Australia's seafood industry.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resources Economics and Sciences estimated a large FMD outbreak brought in from Indonesia would destroy at least $50 billion of the country's livestock industry.
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