1987 May: Export Meat to USA Pesticide Residue Violations. Pesticides: Dieldrin, Hepatchlor

In spite of several quality control procedures used by Australia to ensure the wholesomeness of export meat, a number of pesticide residue violations were identified in the Australian product exported to the USA in May 1987. The pesticides involved were the organochlorines, dieldrin and heptachlor. The problems were caused by the persistence of organochlorines in soils and their illicit use or contamination of storage facilities. Animals grazing contaminated pasture, ingesting contaminated feed or held in contaminated yards over a period, bioaccumulated residues in their adipose tissues which eventually exceeded maximum residue limits (MRL) and caused violations. Though there was no immediate public health risk, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) of the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industries and Energy (DPIE), acted expeditiously to determine and eliminate the factors causing these problems, which threatened Australia’s beef export industry worth in excess of two billion dollars annually. An overall strategic plan, “The Integrated Action Plan”, was formulated and implemented by AQIS with the assistance of the relevant Departments of the States and the Northern Territory (NT), meat processing and export industries and livestock producer bodies. As a result of this action, the likely sources of contamination were identified and controlled. The National Residue Survey (NRS) was enhanced, a National Residue Data Base (NRDB) was established and a centralised computer system interactive with abattoirs, laboratories and animal health authorities developed. The cattle farm identity tail tag system already in place, capable of tracing cattle to the farm of origin was refined and trace back systems for sheep and pigs were utilised. Analytical laboratory facilities capable of a rapid sample turnover were expanded and an individual farm organochlorine clearance program was established. From 25 May 1987 to 22 May 1989, 813,330 cattle were tested in the AQIS testing program from approximately 137,000 individual farms. Of this number, approximately 118,000 farms met the designated test result and were declared clear. This program has also been successful in preventing further violations being detected in Australian beef by overseas import testing authorities. In achieving a reduction of violations, a closer working liaison was established between AQIS and the relevant Departments of the States and NT resposible for animal health programs.