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Australia Prawn white spot infections again found in retail outlets in Federal Government tests

02:25  10 august  2018
02:25  10 august  2018 Source:   abc.net.au

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The deadly white spot virus has been detected in prawns being sold at southeast Queensland supermarkets, reigniting warnings of the risk posed to local stocks. Prawns bought from 10 retail outlets and tested for the virus by University of the Sunshine Coast professor Wayne Knibb found

SYDNEY July 2 (Xinhua) -- Australian media has reported on Monday that prawns bought from 10 retail outlets in the Australian State of Queensland were tested and found to be positive for white spot virus.

Tests of prawns in Sydney and Melbourne this year at retail outlets found white spot infected prawns.© Provided by ABC News Tests of prawns in Sydney and Melbourne this year at retail outlets found white spot infected prawns. The Federal Government has been accused of deception after the Department of Agriculture revealed it had detected the highly destructive white spot virus in imported supermarket prawns this year.

After a Four Corners investigation questioned the effectiveness of border security last month, the Government announced that imported raw prawns tested in shops from the Logan River and Brisbane region were virus free.

"So far, touch wood, there has been no evidence that the new import protocols have failed us, that any of the virus or any of the affected prawns have brought the virus into Australia," Senator Barry O'Sullivan told ABC Radio last month.

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In some cases, white spots can appear on them because of freezer burn or bacterial and fungal infections . If you suspect that you have purchased prawns with white spot Prawns imported to Australia are required to be de-headed, and most that are supplied to retail outlets are de-shelled.

Prawns carrying a deadly virus are being sold on supermarket shelves, believed to have been brought to Australia from imported produce. Research found an outbreak of White Spot disease was prominent in more than 10 retail outlets in southeast Queensland, with up to a third infected .

But what the department did not tell the media was that tests of prawns being sold at retail outlets in Sydney and Melbourne this year did find white spot infected prawns.

The Government has now confirmed that two of 101 retail samples returned strong positives for white spot disease, while another four returned weak positives.

A spokesperson said the tests were conducted between May and June and the report was finalised on July 10.

This is the first time since the Federal Government beefed up biosecurity that it has admitted to the media that imported prawns infected with white spot disease were found in Australian retail outlets this year.

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The federal government had taken action against a major prawn importer on Friday after the disease was detected in Queensland , Joyce said. Queensland prawn farmers face huge losses over white spot disease outbreak. Teens are abandoning Facebook in dramatic numbers, study finds .

Federal authorities investigating prawn imports did not tell Biosecurity Queensland about breaches. Diggles found the rate of white spot contamination at retail counters was high in the lead-up to the outbreak late last year.

Scientist claims government was deceptive

A University of the Sunshine Coast expert in marine animal genetics Wayne Knibb said the response to his findings was "deeply, deeply worrying".

He said that when independent groups such as himself showed the presence of the virus DNA in the supermarkets, the department's reaction was to "try to rebut that critical information, to denigrate our methods, all the while sitting on their own information that suggests that our results were perfectly valid".

"They knew at the time of criticising our results, from their own work, that the virus DNA and likely living virus was in the supermarkets," he said.

Professor Knibb, a former principal scientist with the Queensland Government, had his methods questioned by the Federal Government when he found traces of the exotic virus in 30 per cent of prawn samples purchased from 10 major retail outlets in South East Queensland this year, after import conditions were tightened.

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White Spot was found in the Logan River south of Brisbane and at three of eight land-based prawn farms in 2016. Wood says the federal government , responsible for stopping the import of infected prawns , has abandoned his industry and left fishermen to pick up the pieces.

Samples from all consignments of imported green prawns must be sent for testing to ensure they are free from white spot under Australian quarantine laws. “If this industry is to survive, then government intervention — be that state or federal — will be absolutely critical.”

It described his tests for the Four Corners report as "flawed" because "cooked, breaded, battered and crumbed prawns were not required to be virus-free".

But from September, under new import conditions they will need to be partially cooked.

"We're actually playing Russian roulette and from time to time we pay the penalty of playing this dangerous game [in that] we get an outbreak or we have a likelihood of another outbreak," Professor Knibb said.

"We're trying to import 50,000 tonnes of green prawns into Australia, there is no method we know in science that you can test every little thing.

"Couple that with the entrepreneurialism of importers [and] you've got a real trouble of providing into Australia clean prawns.

"We don't have the same approaches to beef or chicken, because we're worried about foot and mouth."

Disease no threat to people

The white spot virus is not harmful to humans.

But it is lethal to prawns in ponds.

Seven prawn farms at Logan, near the Gold Coast, had to destroy all of their stock when the disease struck in 2016.

The source of Australia's outbreak has never been confirmed.

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Mr Byrne refused to be drawn on the federal government 's importation laws, except to say white spot disease did not 'show up here by the hand of God'. Dr Thompson said recent testing in the area had come back negative. Mr Byrne said prawns in Moreton Bay would not be wiped out by the disease as

As a result, highly processed prawn products collected from retail outlets may test positive for white spot syndrome virus (WSSV) or virus fragments but are considered to be unlikely to cause a WSSV outbreak.

But in December last year a report by Australia's inspector-general of biosecurity, Dr Helen Scott-Orr, found a major biosecurity failure likely led to an outbreak.

She said a litany of failings allowed huge amounts of white spot-infected prawns to be sold in supermarkets.

Some infected prawns had been used as bait in the Logan river, upstream of the water intakes to the prawn farms.

Biosecurity increased at borders

More than a $100 million of taxpayer money has since been spent on compensation, clean-up, monitoring and increased border security.

Containers of imported prawns are now required to be tested for the virus at the country of origin and again when they reach Australia.

"They did let us know on July 10 that there had been two positives out of Melbourne (retail outlets) and that they were following that up.

"So they've let us know but we don't know who the importers or exporters are or the type of prawns," Kim Hooper, the executive director of the Australian Prawn Farmers Association said.

"There's only a limited amount of information that we're getting and for us even one positive is not good enough.

"We don't want to stop importation of prawns, I'll be very clear about that.

"What we're asking for though is that those raw prawns be cooked so that we get the same accessible level of protection that is afforded to other industries such as chicken and pork."

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Retail withdrawal activity. The department first took action to remove white spot infected product from A significant volume of tested product was found to be infected and has been removed from sale. White spot infected prawn meat presents no human health risk and is safe to be consumed.

White spot disease is a highly contagious viral infection that affects crustaceans. It poses a major threat to the Australian prawn industry and native crustaceans. Green prawns imported to Australia must be de-headed and de-shelled when supplied to retail outlets .

The Federal Government commenced action against nine importers that brought in around 70 per cent of Australia's raw prawn imports in 2016.

Ten have had their Approved Arrangements revoked or suspended.

Seven entities have had a total 23 permits revoked.

The Department told the ABC it had consistently explained that it 'cannot guarantee that no prawns with white spot syndrome virus will ever arrive in Australia.'

"Enhanced import conditions for imported prawns and prawn products aim to reduce any biosecurity risk to an acceptable level which is very low but not zero," the department said in a statement.

In contrast the Queensland Government has taken a different approach.

When white spot was confirmed in the wild in Moreton Bay it imposed a movement restriction order for raw wild caught prawns, crustaceans and marine worms between Caloundra and the New South Wales border.

Last month a Gold Coast bait supplier was fined $10,000 for transporting wild caught raw prawns carrying the white spot syndrome virus outside that zone.

Eric Perez from the Queensland Seafood Industry Association believes the differences between the response from the state and federal governments boiled down to international trade.

"If we put restrictions on then suddenly, 'Oh well you export to our countries, what if we put restrictions on what you export out' so it is a trade issue," Mr Perez said.

"The Government will never admit to that but that's the reality that we face.

"Unfortunately our industry has been sacrificed on that altar of trade and it's never been good enough.

"Now we've got this exotic disease in the country and hopefully in the next two years we'll see it eradicated from our waters, that's our hope."

Despite the heavy financial toll on their businesses, there has been no compensation for commercial wild caught fishers.

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