EDITORIAL WEDNESDAY 24.02.10.
The plan to allow beef imports from countries known to have had exposure to BSE or Mad Cow Disease has raised significant fears among both farmers and the community generally. It certainly sounds alarming to hear that such imports will be allowed, and it certainly seems to fly in the face of any kind of common sense. It should be self evident that the best way to eliminate the risk associated with such imports is to simply not allow any imports at all. Despite the reassurances that any such risk is “negligible”, many people feel that “negligible” is in fact an acknowledgement that the risk is not zero. With Australia enjoying the benefits of being an island continent which affords us with a natural quarantine, it would seem foolhardy to simply throw away that advantage.
While some might be concerned about the effects of competition on the local beef industry, that in itself is not enough to halt the imports. Australia is a free trade country and competition is simply part and parcel of the arrangements that allow us to export our produce to the rest of the world. However, one of the things which make our produce so attractive to other parts of the world is the fact that it is clean, green and free of such infections as BSE. Protecting our industry from anything which might threaten that disease free status is perfectly legitimate. So the real questions are just how great is the risk, and is any level of risk acceptable?
The report commissioned by the government claims that any risk of contamination is negligible, and that may be true, but is even a negligible risk worth taking? If our industry is compromised by a failure in the quarantine protocol it will be a genie that cannot be returned to the bottle. The trouble is that we can’t even be sure just how negligible the risk might be in the absence of a detailed import risk analysis, or details about the regulations and protocols which will be imposed on any imports. Then, even if we do insist on other countries meeting the same stringent standards that we impose upon our own industry, what real assurance is there that those other countries will comply with our standards and just how would we enforce them?
When you think about it, why do we need to consider importing beef from anywhere else anyway? We have the best beef in the world here already, and we have so much of it that we export it all over the world. While we wouldn’t want to treat our trading partners unfairly, I have to wonder why they would want to sell their beef to us when there are so many countries, like Japan for example, which do not have a significant domestic beef industry and who actually have a genuine need for imports. You would think that such countries would be keen to pay a premium for a product that they cannot produce for themselves. Unless of course, they don’t want the beef from those producers because it doesn’t come up to standard.
If that’s the case, then we shouldn’t want it either.