Four Corners White Spot testing conclusions flawed

2 July 2018

(Issued by Department of Agriculture)

The department has today received information from University of the Sunshine Coast Professor, Wayne Knibb, which casts serious doubt on the basis of some claims made by Four Corners.

Testing conducted by Professor Knibb, at the request of the ABC, appears to have included products that were not subject to the enhanced import conditions that Four Corners are reporting to have failed.

Information from Professor Knibb indicates that all plain imported raw prawns tested for the ABC tested negative for White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV).

Therefore, the claim that ‘it seems … consignments did get through’ enhanced border measures is not supported by the tests conducted.

Strong working partnerships with the scientific community are essential to our work and the department has urgently requested the full details of this testing data so that potential risks can be assessed.

There is a very important distinction to be made between the presence of viral DNA and the presence of viable virus. A positive result does not necessarily mean that the virus in the prawn is infective.

For that reason the methodology and testing dramatically alters the conclusions that can be drawn.

Understanding the sample is critical, because cooked, breaded, battered and crumbed prawns are not required to be virus free.

The testing that is used to detect viral DNA in prawns is very sensitive. For example, a cooked prawn may test positive for the virus, but it is unlikely that the virus would be infective.

However, the same cooked prawn could contaminate other prawns that it comes into contact with (such as in the supermarket), leading to positive results given the presence of viral DNA.

The department is also conducting its own retail testing of prawns for the virus. All imported raw prawns tested from the Logan River/Brisbane region have tested negative for the virus.

At the border, 483 consignments have been imported under the enhanced import conditions, of which 12 consignments have tested positive for the virus. All these consignments have been or will be re-exported.

The department is confident that border measures to support the safe import of prawns into Australia are effective and review of these import conditions remains ongoing.

The department has acknowledged shortcomings in its handling of this issue and has taken substantial action to address them. We welcome any evidence that will further assist the strengthening of Australian biosecurity.

Anyone with information about suspected breaches of Australian biosecurity, meat or food inspection laws may confidentially report them to the Redline service on 1800 803 006.