Smuggled food poses foot-and-mouth risk in Australia

Australians take disease control at the border seriously. Fly into any Aussie airport from overseas and your contents will be scrutinized; they also have some of the best dog snifferes anywhere, and they’re everywhere. There’s even a reality show about customs control.

So it’s no surprise a senate inquiry has heard banned food is being smuggled into Australia from countries with foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), jeopardising Australia’s agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) told a senate estimates hearing on Monday that smuggled goods posed a real risk to Australia, which has been free of FMD for more than 100 years.

Among the tonnes of illegal imports seized in raids this year have been food products, including more than 760kg of ice cream, from FMD countries.

The warning comes after a company director pleaded guilty in a Brisbane court last week to having dealt with illegally imported meat and dairy products from South Korea.

DAFF, in conjunction with Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and trading partners, has been running targeted campaigns, random cargo inspections and a hotline to crack down on illegal food imports.

One such campaign, known as Operation Hayride, was set up after DAFF uncovered during a routine inspection in late 2010, evidence of the deliberate import of banned foods.

DAFF selected 225 targets for inspection and raided more than 300 retail premises, discovering 132 tonnes of banned goods including meat and dairy products.

“One of the benefits with Operation Hayride was when you start digging you get more leads as you go,” said DAFF’s Tim Chapman from the Border Compliance Division.

Evidence from this saw company director Yoo Young Jack Kim last week sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for importing banned food from South Korea.