Author Topic: 13 shipments of Australian mutton and beef exports found with E. coli, faeces.  (Read 836 times)

WA Export News

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Aussie meat exports found with E. coli, faeces
By Kerry Brewster

Posted May 25, 2012

Up to 13 shipments of Australian meat have been rejected by the United States because they contained faeces or other matter.

Yesterday, three shipments of Australian beef were found by US authorities in South Carolina to contain the potentially fatal E. Coli bacteria.

Now Lateline has obtained emails between senior officials in the US Agriculture Department which show that up to 13 separate Australian shipments of meat were rejected over the past year.

They included nine loads of mutton contaminated with faeces.

And safety monitors have warned that a new inspection system introduced last October, moving away from a high level of government oversight to a more self-regulatory system, is opening the doors for more contaminated meat to be sent overseas.

The US is Australia's second-largest beef export market and largest lamb export market.

The industry says the annual exports are worth more than $1 billion.

The Department of Agriculture has confirmed to the ABC that three shipments of beef from three abattoirs became contaminated with a dangerous form of E. coli.

The contaminated meat came to light in South Carolina this week.

The Department of Agriculture's Greg Read told Lateline that the three abattoirs involved have been ordered to lift their hygiene standards.

"We conducted thorough investigations into the reasons for that occurring," he said.

"We went out, and, as the regulator, reassessed our baseline. We reassessed the methodologies being applied and we're looking at improving again the system to ensure that in the future the potential for these sorts of incidents is minimised."

While there have been no reports of food poisoning in South Carolina, the reputation of Australian beef is hurting, with US media pointing to Australia as the source of contamination of a large, blended batch of mince.

Late last year another Australian meat shipment was rejected because veterinary drug residues were found.

The Department of Agriculture says it is very concerned about the detections.

"We take that extremely seriously. We conducted thorough investigations into the reasons for that occurring," Mr Read said.
Inspection system failing

But safety monitors believe the industry's quality control is failing.

"There is concern that the Australian meat inspection system is not catching the microbiological contaminants in the meat supply of exports to the United States," Food and Water Watch's Tony Corbo said.

The Federal Government introduced a new export meat inspection system last October, moving away from a high level of government oversight to a more self-regulatory system.

But independent MP Bob Katter, a former cattleman, says the new system will fail.

"A meat inspection system that is self-policing is no policing at all," he said.

"It's like you're asking Al Capone 'Would you mind ensuring that you police so that no-one is selling sly grog?'"

Mr Katter says Australia's meat trade with the US is at risk.

"They're just as likely to cut off the entire trade. This is a $4,000 million [sic] a year trade," he said.

Mr Korbo agrees.

"They've done it with other countries where there've been contaminants found in meat that has been exported to the United States where they've suspended importation of all meat from that country," he said.

The Community and Public Sector Union, which covered the former government meat inspectors, also believes the new inspection system is compromised.

"The new system ... replaces about 40 per cent of the government meat inspectors with a smaller number of company inspectors," the union's Nadine Flood said.

"The concerns that have been raised is that that is a less rigorous system, it means that those people are employed by the meat plants, they have to meet production quotas at the same time as doing the inspection role, and that that's a system which doesn't have the same safeguards in it."

The type of contamination detailed in the US Agriculture Department's emails should have been picked up in Australian abattoirs by meat inspectors acting under domestic quarantine regulations.

But the Department of Agriculture denies the system failed.

"The use of non-government employees is strongly controlled through government verification and government oversight on those plants as well as government inspectors in addition standing on the chain, ensuring the high ... hygiene requirements have been met," Mr Read said.

"From our perspective, in the international arena of increasing food safety demands, we have a system here that will provide us with those assurances that Australian product is the best product in the world.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2012, 07:40:20 PM by WA Export News »