Food safety, certification programmes, animal safety and disease

Livestock legislation

List the main applicable enacted legislation for primary processors of live animals.

The Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997 is the main applicable enacted legislation for the processing of livestock. The objective of the Agriculture Ministers’ Forum (AGMIN), which represents various agencies within the Commonwealth and state and territorial governments, is to develop and promote sustainable, innovative and profitable agricultural industries. AGMIN also produces codes of practice and industry standards that cover items such as poultry processing, game meat for human consumption, welfare of animals, beef cattle feedlots, and many others.

While each state and territory has animal welfare and processing standards and guidelines, there is a current push to create a nationally consistent set of standards and guidelines. The states and territories have the primary responsibility for animal welfare, and the federal government is responsible for international trade agreements to ensure exporters maintain international export standards.

The guidelines related to these matters are:

  • the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guides (Model Codes of Practice);
  • the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock; and
  • the regulations relating to live animal export trade.

The Department of Agriculture works closely with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, which has a focus on food processing and manufacturing.

Other pieces of legislation and guidelines governing the meat and livestock industries in Australia include:

  • the Export Control Act 1982;
  • the Export Control Amendment (Quotas) Act 2015;
  • the Dairy Produce Act 1986 (Cth);
  • Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS); and
  • Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock.

There is no distinction made between meat for domestic consumption and meat for export. However, there is a very small number of authorised halal and kosher abattoirs with special permission to conduct religious-based processing.

Food safety regime

Describe food safety regulations for meat and poultry products, and all other food products in your jurisdiction.

There are a number of important documents that form the integral parts of the joint food regulation system. Food safety in Australia is governed by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 and is regulated at the national level. There is a binational arrangement between Australia’s federal government, states and territories and New Zealand. This intergovernmental agreement and treaty establishes a food regulation system and sets standards under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Chapter 3 of this Code deals with food safety. There are five standards relevant to food safety:

  • interpretation and application;
  • food safety programmes;
  • food safety practices;
  • food premises and equipment; and
  • food safety programmes regarding service to vulnerable persons.

FSANZ is a statutory authority in the Australian government health portfolio. It develops the Food Standards Code, and the state authorities enforce the Code locally.

Australian Consumer Law prohibits false, misleading or deceptive representations.

Safety enforcement

What enforcement can take place in relation to food safety? What penalties may apply?

Each state and territory has a food safety agency that works to ensure food is safely produced, manufactured and sold at each step in the supply chain. There are state and territory government laws and regulations that administer and enforce food legislation and all aspects of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

Regular audits and inspections are made at properties. Depending on the severity of the breach or non-compliance, enforcement can vary from:

  • a warning letter;
  • improvement notice;
  • penalty notice;
  • product seizure;
  • registration suspension;
  • prosecution; or
  • registration cancellation.
Product certification

Describe any certification programmes and regulations for genetically modified foods and organic foods.

Genetically modified (GM) foods are regulated under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. There are two provisions: mandatory pre-market approval, including a food safety assessment, and mandatory labelling requirements on the product. There is a list of approved GM foods. In Australia, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator oversees the release of GM organisms to the market under the Gene Technology Act 2000 (Cth).

There are six organic approved certifying organisations in Australia that are recognised by the Department of Agriculture. These are:

  • AUS-QUAL Pty Ltd (AUSQUAL);
  • Australian Certified Organic (ACO);
  • Bio-Dynamic Research Institute (BDRI);
  • NASAA Certified Organic (NCO);
  • Organic Food Chain (OFC); and
  • Southern Cross Certified Australia Pty Ltd (SXCA).

There is also a National Standard for Organic and Bio-Dynamic Produce, issued under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

Food labelling requirements

What are the food labelling requirements, including the applicable enacted legislation, enforcement and penalties?

Food labelling laws are very strict in Australia, although labelling is not about safety but rather about consumer choice. The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code sets the standards for what information must be provided on food labels including matters such as:

  • use-by or best-before dates;
  • country of origin;
  • health claims;
  • ingredient list and percentage labelling;
  • food additives; and
  • nutrition information.

GM foods that contain novel DNA must be labelled with the words ‘genetically modified’.

Penalties for breach of food labelling laws include fines, closure of the business and, in extreme cases, jail sentences for fraud.

The relevant legislation regarding the different requirements of food labelling is part of the Australian Consumer Law under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth).

Food animal legislation

List the main applicable enacted legislation regarding health of food animals, including transportation and disease outbreak and management.

Each state or territory government has plans and processes in place for coordinating responses to pest or disease outbreaks. The system, however, is a nationally agreed system coordinated by the federal government with authorities including Plant Health Australia, Animal Health Australia, Wildlife Health Australia and the CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory.

The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for the Land Transport of Livestock are managed by Animal Health Australia. These standards cover the transport of food animals by road and rail.

Australia is free of many of the world’s most aggressive animal diseases, such as avian influenza H5N1 and foot-and-mouth disease. Australia’s biosecurity laws are very strict, and biosecurity practices (such as disinfecting, boundary fences, management of stray animals and clean machinery) are promoted. There is a list of pests and diseases that must be reported and processes to manage national pest and disease outbreaks. The Department of Agriculture manages these.

Animal movement restrictions

What are the restrictions on the movement of animals within your country?

There are interstate quarantine requirements when crossing state or territory borders in Australia. Each state or territory has its own quarantine laws. Regarding food animals, it is the biosecurity laws that are relevant.

In addition, the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for the Land Transport of Livestock will apply to the cross-border movement of food animals within Australia. This protects the welfare of the animal with regard to travelling time, time without water, temperature and transport conditions, and the general safety and wellbeing of the animals.

Slaughter legislation

Where would one find the regulations related to livestock slaughtering?

The Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production and Transportation of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption is the relevant standard approved by the federal government. There is also a model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments. It covers aspects of unloading, pre-slaughter handling and the slaughter process and aims to encourage the efficient, considerate treatment of animals so that stress is minimised. It also includes a section about emergency slaughter of sick, crippled and ‘downer’ animals. The Code also talks about techniques for the humane destruction of animals.

There are state and territory laws regarding the prevention of cruelty to animals that also apply. Planning and environmental laws also apply to the operation of the abattoir itself.

Pest control requirements

Outline the regulatory regime for pesticides in your jurisdiction.

The Department of Agriculture manages the laws regarding biosecurity concerns in Australia, including under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth). These laws relate to pests, diseases and weeds in animals, aquatic animals, plants, bees, birds and locusts.

Australia has a very rigorous and effective declaration process when goods are imported into Australia. There are obligations to report biosecurity concerns and specially trained investigators will review all biosecurity concerns. There will not be a prosecution if the breach was unintentional. If the breach was intentional, fines and penalties, and possibly jail, will likely follow for the convicted offender.

Biosecurity is also an issue within Australia itself and not just applicable to imports. Weed seeds, diseases and pests can be unintentionally transported between farming operations or agribusinesses, thereby increasing the risk of a pest or disease spreading. There is, therefore, an educational push, driven by all levels of government, to make biosecurity the responsibility of all persons within the agriculture industry.