The Australian Government has revoked the visa of a Vietnamese woman entering Australia this week, after customs officers found 10 kilograms of undeclared food products in her luggage.
The 45-year-old woman is the first person to be deported under strict new quarantine laws designed to stem the risk of an outbreak of African swine fever. The Migration Act was amended earlier this year, allowing authorities to reduce visa durations or cancel them altogether if a traveller is found to have imported objectionable goods.
During a routine inspection at Sydney Airport, the woman was discovered to have 4.6 kilograms of pork, almost half a kilogram of eggs as well as quail, pate, fruit, garlic and squid in her luggage. The passenger had not listed the food items on the customs declaration form.
The Government’s tightened stance is a response to the outbreak of African swine fever, which has lead to significant culls in countries in Africa, Europe and Asia. To date, 25% of the world’s pig herd has been culled to stem the spread of the disease, for which there is no known cure.
Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie said that African swine fever is potentially the worst animal health disease the world had ever seen.
“Earlier this year we implemented changes to immigration legislation so that international visitors who bring in undeclared high risk items, like pork from African swine fever affected countries, can be sent back home. They can be refused entry to Australia and have their visas cancelled for up to three years,” she said during a press conference this week.
“Since we increased border checks we’ve been seizing 100 kilograms a week in illegal pork products. Between 5 November 2018 and 31 August 2019, over 27 tonnes of pork were intercepted on air travellers entering Australia.”
Tests conducted have revealed that almost half of all seized pork products are infected with African swine fever.
“The department has recently done testing … and in that two-week period there were 157 seizures that covered 418 individual products and almost 49 per cent of those products had ASF,” said Margo Andrae, Chief Executive of Pork Australia.
Producers Tightening up Biosecurity Measures
While African swine fever has not yet been detected amongst live pigs in Australia, some producers are reviewing biosecurity measures in order to reduce the risk.
“I guess now, with the spread of it through Asia and the fact it is so close to home, just being discovered in East Timor, it is starting to be a real issue for us,” said Barongarook producer Xavier Meade.
Mr Meade has introduced new measures to protect his 26-sow operation. Visitors to his property will be required to disinfect their hands and boots, and animal transport vehicles will be thoroughly washed down after abattoir visits.
While the industry seems to be on high alert, Mr Meade’s customers, which include restaurants and private buyers in Western Victoria, have not yet expressed any concern about African swine fever.
“I don’t think it’s something the general public are probably aware of at the moment.”