Permanent ban on disease-carrying raw prawn imports required

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
21 February 2007, at 12:00am

AUSTRALIA - Quarantine regulator Biosecurity Australia is being urged to immediately ban imported raw prawns known to be infected with at least two exotic diseases that have the potential to decimate wild and farmed prawn, crab and lobster populations in Australia.

The Australian Prawn Farmers Association said government testing of imported raw prawns late last year found 100 percent were carrying exotic diseases.

Submissions in response to Biosecurity Australia’s draft Import Risk Analysis (IRA) on imported raw prawns close today, and AFPA executive officer Scott Walter said its submission requests that stricter interim conditions become effective immediately.

“Australia is an island nation with a mainland coastline of 36,000km – including the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef – with many species of crustaceans that are vulnerable to exotic diseases,” Mr Walter said.

The draft IRA says: “The likelihood of release of White Spot Syndrome Virus via the unrestricted importation of non-viable, farm-sourced, frozen, uncooked whole prawns intended for human consumption is estimated to be high.”

Mr Walter said Australian taxpayers are entitled to expect the Australian Government to take a conservative approach to quarantine, in light of the high cost associated with attempts to eradicate exotic diseases assuming eradication was possible.

“Australia’s disease-free status is highly valued and well worth defending in the interests of future food production and preserving native seafood resources for future generations.”

“It is entirely responsible of the quarantine watchdog to put the onus on importers to prove that product they are bringing into this country is not carrying diseases when the CSIRO has estimated these diseases have an economic impact of $15-$30 billion internationally.”

Mr Walter said the draft IRA does not propose all imports be banned. Prawns that have been heat treated to kill off exotic disease organisms will not be affected, but importers of whole or peeled raw prawns will need to provide proof they are free of disease.

“Australia is not setting a precedent in implementing these quarantine measures. Brazil banned all frozen prawn imports in 1999 to prevent the introduction of exotic diseases, while Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua have mandatory testing of all frozen prawn imports as a precautionary measure to prevent the introduction of diseases.”

“The direct pathway for disease introduction to wild or farmed prawns is when imported infected prawns are used as bait or berley, and the only certain way to prevent this is to not allow any diseased product into Australia.”

“None of these prawn diseases affect humans, but they are endemic in China, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia from where most of the raw imported product has been coming from.”

TheFishSite News Desk