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SBS documentary blasts Brazilian beef import fiasco

The Brazilian beef import fiasco has come back to haunt the Federal Government, with a SBS special investigation last night revealing how close Australia came to catching foot and mouth disease.

On SBS's Dateline program, the reportors had travelled to Brazil to investigate the credibility of Brazil's internal quarantine measures that Australia is relying on to prevent the spread of FMD.

Several provinces within Brazil have FMD, but under international quarantine and trade laws, Brazil is allowed to export beef, to some countries, from cattle in "non-FMD infected states".

The credibility of the zones was at the centre of a Senate Inquiry earlier this year when Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan raised allegations that Heinz Watties, which at that time had an import permit for Brazilian beef following a change in Australia's regulations by Biosecurity, had dumped imported product at the Wagga tip.

SBS's investigation last night was startling.

It found the so-called 'FMD-free zones' within Brazil are highly porous.

Indeed, at the time of the import into Australia of Brazilian beef, a new FMD outbreak had been reported in one of the supposed "FMD-free zones".

That was the reason Heinz Watties was asked by Biosecurity, after the beef was imported, not to process the beef.

SBS showed, on screen, in a startling sequence, how cattle are able to wander into Brazil from countries with a history of the disease, because of the 800km of land borders adjoining FMD countries.

Jose Severino Durey from Brazil's animal health agency IAGRO said, on screen that, with those "800km of dry borders, there's no way that police can control" the movement of cattle and disease.

The Dateline program revealed that Biosecurity Australia, at the time, did not inspect conditions in Brazil, prior to relaxing import restrictions, and subsequently issuing the import licence to Heinz.

Central theme of the SBS program was: is Australia's clean, green agricultural image being compromised in the interests of opening up our borders in the name of free trade?

The program also investigated recent Biosecurity Australia's handling of the pork import permit case currently before the Federal Court.

The case invloves the threat of the untreatable post-weaning multi-systemic wasting disorder (PMWS) disease in pigs, not present in Australia.

The syndrome was recently at the centre of a Federal Court dispute between Australian Pork Ltd (APL) and the Department of Agriculture over pork import permits.

APL had successfully argued the nation's clean herd was at an unacceptable risk of being infected, because of weaknesses in the import risk analysis.

The Commonwealth has appealed the decision - and, in the meantime, pork imports are still allowed in.

While the case is being argued in court, two suspected cases of PMWS in Australia have been reported.
One in SA has since been cleared as a false alarm. The other, in NSW, is still under investigation.