THE FEDERAL agriculture minister has said there will be a zero tolerance policy on biosecurity breaches after traces of both foot and mouth disease (FMD) and African swine fever (ASF) virus were found in meat products tested prior to importation.
Headlining the list of potential sanctions is a push to refuse entry into the country for those that have been caught failing to declare produce for a second time.
Testing by the Australian Animal Health laboratory of meat products collected at airports found two cases of FMD since December, with a third sample deemed inconclusive among the more than 280 samples tested for the deadly livestock disease.
It was found in smallgoods such as sausages and pork jerky.
Fragments of ASF were also detected in the meat of six of the December samples and 40 of the 283 samples taken in 2019.
Minister David Littleproud said travellers failing to declare plant and animal matter they imported would have the book thrown at them, with fines and possible criminal prosecution, along with the threat of court proceedings.
Mr Littleproud said he was also working with the Minister for Immigration David Coleman to have repeat non-declarers barred from entering the country.
It is not just items brought back as luggage under scrutiny, screenings of plant and animal imports via the mail are also set to be stepped up.
Australia is currently free of both FMD and ASF. Both diseases have the potential to cost our farming sector billions of dollars.
If FMD was established here, disease experts believe it would be very difficult to stop, spreading through close contact between animals.
It is a danger to all cloven-footed animals, including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and deer.
Modelling used by the agriculture industry suggests an outbreak would cost $50 billion over 10 years.
Victoria's chief vet Charles Milne said the findings highlighted the need for Australia's tough quarantine restrictions.
"The lesson there is that people must comply with quarantine requirements and that applies to everyone in the population," Dr Milne said.
"The consequences of one of these viruses getting through and infecting our livestock would be catastrophic."
He said people only had to look at the devastation the disease had wrought on the UK livestock sector when an outbreak was found there in 2001.
"In the UK in 2001, we had to slaughter six-and-a-half million animals as a consequence of the outbreak."
FMD in livestock and livestock products is not a threat to human health.
Victorian Farmers' Federation president David Jochinke said the detections proved a greater investment was needed in biosecurity at all levels of government.
"The current penalties are no more than a slap on the wrist," Mr Jochinke said.
"They are an insult to Australia's food, beverage and tourism sectors, when an FMD outbreak could cost Australia $50 billion over 10 years."
Ian McColl, chair of NSW Farmers’ biosecurity committee, said that farmers were pleased to see the government step up compliance efforts against biosecurity breaches.
Mr McColl said the only way to reduce the risk of importing diseases through luggage or mail was through education, strict compliance and enforcement at the border.
“This means our biosecurity staff need to be properly resourced to detect risks at our air and sea ports, as well as at mail centres.
It is not just the livestock industry on high alert due to biosecurity threats.
There have also been a significant number of pest incursion found on cut flowers and foliage entering Australia.
VFF horticulture group president Emma Germano said it needed to be monitored for the sake of all plant-based agriculture, saying incursions could have impact on far more than just the flower industry.