MEDIA STATEMENT: Management of Prawn Imports into Australia

23 February 2021

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is committed to the management of biosecurity risks associated with imported goods, in line with Australia’s international obligations.

In 2016, the department commenced an investigation into suspected breaches of biosecurity border controls for imported uncooked prawns with compliance action taken against a number of entities.

Import conditions for uncooked prawns were suspended for 6 months following the white spot disease outbreak in Queensland in December 2016. 

Strengthened import conditions for prawns for human consumption were then implemented in July 2017 at the resumption of trade.

These conditions were further strengthened in September 2018 and July 2020 in response to new information about trade trends and biosecurity risk. 

Strengthened border controls are supported by a range of safeguards to ensure the risk of imported prawns is appropriately managed, including:

  • testing of imported uncooked prawns collected in Australian supermarkets
  • border inspection of uncooked prawns, with two inspectors undertaking seals-intact inspection 
  • a quality assurance program for disease testing at the three approved Australian testing laboratories
  • monitoring the performance of importers and supply chains.

The Inspector-General of Biosecurity reviewed the effectiveness of biosecurity controls for prawn imports in 2017 and reported in 2019 that these measures have substantially increased compliance. 

The current non-compliance rate at the border is 0.45 per cent, with all non-compliant imports re-exported or destroyed.

The department is currently reviewing import conditions for prawns and has sought stakeholder comment.

Members of a scientific advisory group will independently review the department’s assessment of the biosecurity risks posed by imported raw prawns. Their findings will be reported to the Director of Biosecurity.
Australia’s biosecurity system protects our $61 billion agricultural industries and over $1 trillion in environmental assets. 

The department strongly supports a penalty system that reflects the seriousness of any breach of the law.

The current penalty regime for importers and approved arrangements is under review. 

Background

  • Australia takes a science-based approach to biosecurity risk to ensure that risks remain within Australia’s appropriate level of protection—a very low level of risk but not zero risk. As a member of the World Trade Organization, Australia has agreed that it will not implement a biosecurity measure more restrictive than necessary to maintain Australia’s appropriate level of protection.
  • There is no information at this stage to suggest that the recent white spot syndrome virus detection in prawns on Logan River farms and wild crabs in Moreton Bay is a new incursion linked to imported overseas product. 
  • The source of the white spot disease outbreak in December 2016 also remains unknown.