A stoush is
brewing between pork producers and Australian quarantine authorities
over claims that the US pressured local officials to loosen quarantine
restrictions, thereby placing Australia’s pork producers at risk of a deadly
pig disease.

Pig farmers say the quarantine concessions are a direct result of the Australia/US free trade agreement – and point to press reports in the US which claim that opening up Australian pork markets is a crucial part of the deal.

spokesman for agriculture minister Warren Truss told Crikey that
politicians don’t interfere in quarantine decisions, but it does
seem that quarantine authorities are suddenly very keen to allow new
importers to enter the market.

In late May, Federal Court judge Murray Wilcox ruled
that Australian quarantine’s decision to allow 84 new permits to import
pork was based on incorrect science. He revoked one permit and put a
halt on any further licences over concerns the new imports would allow
the deadly pig disease PMWS to spread to Australia.

The Land
reports that US Senate finance chairman, Chuck Grassley,
pressured the Australian government to appeal Justice Wilcox’s decision
and that the US could take the quarantine dispute to the World Trade
Organisation if the judge’s decision isn’t overturned. Quarantine will appeal the decision.

Australian Pork Limited and the director of Animal and Plant Quarantine
are tight lipped about the upcoming appeal, but from all accounts the
issue is striking up a fair bit of interest around the corridors of
power in Canberra.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey