QUARANTINE: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Federal Court overturns pig meat import ban
, October 8, 2005
A quarantine ban on uncooked pig meat imports has been overturned by the Federal Court of Australia, writes Peter Westmore
.A quarantine ban on uncooked pig meat imports has been overturned by the Federal Court of Australia.
A full session of the Federal Court has overturned, on appeal, an earlier judgment of Justice Wilcox that found that the entry of uncooked pig meat from the United States imposed an unacceptable risk of the entry of exotic diseases to Australia.
Justice Wilcox found that arguments contained in the import risk assessment (IRA) were defective and, contrary to the expert panel's assessment, there was a substantial risk that exotic disease could enter Australia through the imported pig meat.
On appeal, the Federal Court judges stated that they would not rule on the competence of IRA.
They said, "While there is room for debate as to some aspects of the IRA Report, the Panel did not carry out its task irrationally or unreasonably. The Court is not empowered to adjudicate on the factual correctness or otherwise of the IRA Report."
The judges stated, "In the present case, the [IRA] Panel was not only concerned with fact rather than discretion, it had to make an assessment of future risk and measure that risk against the imponderable standard of acceptable lowness. An element of speculation, in the sense of assessing the likelihood of future occurrences, was necessarily involved."
The Full Court endorsed the appeal on the basis that the pork industry had attempted "to move into the Court the exercise of risk assessment which Parliament has conferred on an administrative decision-maker".
Responding to the judgement, a director of Australian Pork Limited (APL), Dr Paul Higgins, said there were a number of worrying aspects about the court's judgment:
- the court acknowledged that Australia's appropriate level of protection is an "imponderable standard of acceptable lowness";
- the court acknowledged that it is a legitimate argument that the IRA "was not an ideal process as a matter of scientific method"; and
- the court acknowledged that, in determining the likely risks, "some experiments might have been conducted". He said APL has argued for years that those experiments should be conducted.