Pig Meat Importation

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SpeakersKelly The Hon Tony


The Hon. A. B. KELLY [12.02 a.m.]: I wish to speak tonight on the great pork debate. The recent Federal decision to allow the import of processed Canadian pork and uncooked Danish pig meat could mean the end for many New South Wales pig producers. Under the increased pressure from imports, 1,000 pig producers in New South Wales will be looking for ways to cut costs in order to survive the flow of imported products set to flood the Australian market in 1998. Unfortunately, these producers were already pushed to the edge of cost-cutting measures when Canadian pig meat was introduced. It is not simply a matter of becoming more efficient. Many producers are left with no option but to cut staff. Given the current climate, selling out from the pig industry is not an option because no-one is prepared to buy in such an uncertain environment.

In an unprecedented movement, market prices have actually fallen in the lead-up to Christmas. That is a cruel blow to most producers, who rely on Christmas sales to show a profit. Imports are already more than 1,000 tonnes per month and prices are falling steadily. By allowing the unimpeded import of premium market cooked and processed products, the Federal Government is taking jobs from regional processors and giving them to off-shore producers with no regard to the impact on our communities. Denmark places tariffs ranging from $US350 per tonne to $US3,500 per tonne on Australian meat. But Denmark now has free access into Australia and does not even have to pay the various promotional levies to encourage meat sales that all Australian producers are required to pay. These imports can flood into Australia virtually unimpeded. It is significant to note that under the Uruguay round of trade discussions the Federal Government is allowed to place tariffs of 12.5 per cent to 20 per cent on imported pork. But the Government refuses to exercise that right, leaving Australian pork producers and the people they employ at an enormous comparative disadvantage.

The banality of pursuing a level playing field in the current climate of agricultural trade seems entirely lost on Mr Anderson. However, it is not lost on the President of the New South Wales Farmers Association, Ian Donges, who, on behalf of producers, stated, "The Federal Government has a long way to go to give the Australian meat export industry anything like a level playing field for trade." A $10 million compensation package was arrived at based on the prospect of Danish imports. Then the new Canadian imports were announced, much to the surprise of the Pork Council, and no commensurate increase in the adjustment package was even considered. That $10 million over three years will not even make a dent in the enormous losses faced by many producers. A 10¢ drop in the price of pig meat resulting from the import decision would lead to industry losses of more than $10 million in a single week in a single State. What are pork producers supposed to do with this package?

The New South Wales Farmers Association represents more than 1,000 pig producers, yet it is still being refused a position on the Federal Government’s board that was formed to negotiate the details of the package. Significantly, most of the producers represented by the association are small to medium-size businesses while the board membership consists of only the largest industry players. The average producer has been effectively denied a voice in the adjustment process. It follows that the already meagre package will go to those who need it least while small producers are forced off the land - all in the name of economic rationalism! The Chairman of the New South Wales Farmers Pork Producers Committee responded strongly to the import decision and warned that it could cost John Anderson his blue-ribbon National Party seat in north-west New South Wales. It seems to be a sentiment shared by many of the Minister’s traditional grassroots supporters.

After Anderson’s decision that science was a key factor in pig meat imports, the Pork Council of Australia called for the immediate suspension of
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imports from Canada. It has been revealed that Australia’s import protocol may not be sufficient to prevent the import of pig disease, which is spreading throughout Canada and the United States of America. The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service - AQIS - admitted to a Senate estimates committee hearing that it could not give an assurance that cooking requirements in the current protocol were sufficient to destroy porcine circovirus, which has been said to cause up to 50 per cent mortality in young pigs in infected herds in Canada and the United States.

An independent report produced by the Pig Research and Development Corporation found that there is a possibility that the disease is carried in pork products. The corporation could not be sure that the current protocols denatured the virus. John Anderson announced in the Land that the import decision would be science based. If he cannot see the equity and employment issues at stake, I challenge him to stand by his word and suspend pork imports on the basis of the pig corporation’s findings.