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Australia’s Senators Anxious about PRRS

by 5m Editor
24 May 2011, at 11:04am

AUSTRALIA - Coalition Senator Bill Heffernan, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, Australian Greens Senator Christine Milne, and former pig farmer and Nationals Senator John Williams, have called for an urgent review of Australia’s quarantine laws to ensure Australia’s pork industry is kept free of the devastating Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS).

The move follows a decision by the New Zealand Government to allow imports of raw pig meat from countries affected by PRRS. Previously, all imported meat had to be frozen and boneless to ensure they were not affected by any disease.

The New Zealand pork industry has taken their case to the NZ High Court, which issued an interim order preventing the New Zealand Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry from granting clearances for untreated meat until the industry’s complaints had been heard. This interim order is due to expire at 3pm AEST today.

PRRS, which is described by the industry as 'Pig AIDS', causes severe immune suppression and can result in around 70 per cent of piglets dying pre-weaning and a further 15 per cent dying post-weaning. It can also cause severe respiratory disease, death, and late term abortions in pregnant sows.

Australia and New Zealand are two of only a handful of countries in the world to not have been affected by PRRS.

The serious concern expressed by Australian pork producers and other meat producers is that the New Zealand Government's decision will inevitably put enormous pressure on Australia to water down its quarantine arrangements.

Currently, pork imported into Australia must be frozen and boneless to avoid importation of any disease. However, the New Zealand decision could give countries with PRRS, such as Canada, the United States and Denmark, the ability to mount a challenge against Australia's restrictions through the WTO.

This risk is compounded by virtue of the Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand, which would give PRRS countries an opportunity to argue Australia's rules are a barrier to free trade.

"PRRS is considered to be the HIV-equivalent in the pig world," said Senator Heffernan.

“If New Zealand wishes to lower their standards and import disease-carrying fresh pork from declared PRRS countries, this could potentially have a devastating impact on Australia's pig producers and Australian consumers,” Senator Heffernan said.

Australian Greens Senator, Christine Milne, says: “Even though this disease doesn’t affect humans, it could have a serious impact on our pork industry and ruin our reputation as a disease-free source of pig meat."

PRRS can enter the local environment if pigs ingest infected meat.

Although feeding human food waste to pigs is banned in Australia, the industry fears that the disease could spread through something as simple as a person handling infected meat and then feeding pigs.

Former pig farmer and Nationals Senator, John Williams, says: "If New Zealand allows the importation of raw pig meat, then the Australian Government should strengthen its resolve and not buckle to international pressure."

Furthermore, Independent Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, says: “It seems that the free trade bureaucrat in the Government still don't get the value of Australia's clean, disease-free reputation."

"It's worth billions of dollars to our economy, and that all could be lost with a stroke of a pen," Senator Xenophon said.

Further Reading

- Find out more information on PRRS by clicking here.