Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Estimates hearings, 21 May 2012
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
- Senator Joe Ludwig, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery
- Dr Andrew Cupit, Acting Assistant Secretary, Animal Biosecurity Branch
Senator RHIANNON: I would like to ask some biosecurity questions to do with the importing of fresh shell eggs. I am interested in what diseases are found or what diseases could be imported if fresh shell eggs were allowed to be imported into Australia. Why are there restrictions on the import of such products?
Dr A Cupit: Do you mean hatching eggs?
Senator RHIANNON: I mean all of them.
Dr A Cupit: Eggs in general?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes.
Dr A Cupit: There is a range of diseases that we cover off on, including things like IBDV—infectious bursa disease. There are a few other things—avian influenza, Newcastle disease. Those sorts of diseases that can affect the live animal can also affect the shell and can be on the outside of that shell. So we would address all of those.
Senator RHIANNON: So to allow fresh shell eggs to be imported would require a change to the current law by AQIS? Is that the case?
Dr A Cupit: Obviously it requires a risk assessment to do that. We allow egg products—spray dried egg products and that sort of thing.
Senator RHIANNON: I am aware of that.
Dr A Cupit: But the whole egg, no.
Senator RHIANNON: That would require a change of law?
Dr A Cupit: It requires a risk assessment.
Senator RHIANNON: So when you say ‘risk assessment’ you are saying that it does not require a change of law; it would just require some assessment by the people who work in the department, would it?
Dr A Cupit: Like any imported goods, it requires a risk assessment to address whether the risks are slightly different as to the whole egg as opposed to, say, egg products where you remove the shell. There are slightly different risks. Potentially the disease can be on the outside of the shell.
Senator RHIANNON: This is what I am just trying to clarify. There was recently a statement from the Australian Egg Corporation that there could be a flood of egg imports from countries like the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam. I understood that under the present regime or laws or regulations that is impossible.
Dr A Cupit: It is impossible. Even for spray dried egg products we only have a select group of approved countries and there are only about five or six on that list.
Senator RHIANNON: What countries are those, please?
Dr A Cupit: Canada, the United States, Denmark, Belgium and France—although I would have to take that on notice to make sure that that is correct.
Senator RHIANNON: If you could take that on notice—but at the moment you understand that they are European countries?
Dr A Cupit: European and North American, Senator.
Senator RHIANNON: The Australian Egg Corporation made this statement recently. Is that something that the department monitors—such statements from a significant national body that is obviously relevant biosecurity? Was that statement noted and was any advice prepared on that?
Dr A Cupit: We generally monitor all media statements or statements from industry organisations but I am unaware of that statement.
Senator RHIANNON: Is there anybody else here who would have been aware of it and may have prepared advice for others in the department or for the minister?
Dr A Cupit: Another part of the department—which is appearing tomorrow—the Agricultural Productivity Division, also provides advice on egg industry arrangements, so they may have; but I am not aware of it.
Senator RHIANNON: Minister, did you receive any advice that the Australian Egg Corporation was making statements that, on the information that has just been supplied now, were highly inaccurate?
Senator Ludwig: I do not recall but the Egg Corporation is on tomorrow, so you can ask the question again about whether they forwarded anything either to the department or to me personally. I do not recall it but that does not mean it may not have happened. I will check the record as well.
Senator RHIANNON: I would just like to ask, while you are all here, whether you think there is any possibility that Australia would change the laws that currently prohibit fresh shell eggs entering the country.
Dr A Cupit: There would have to be a request and it would have to be put on our work program. It would then have to be prioritised accordingly.