Animal Welfare

1 September 2021

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:23): My question is to Senator McKenzie, representing the Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia. Three years ago more than 100 dogs died as a result of eating a particular brand of dry dog food. Since then, no effective action has been taken. Now—in fact, in recent weeks—there's been a spate of dog deaths linked to tainted raw pet meat. Pet owners have been waiting for more than three years, since the last Senate inquiry that I instigated, to see action on pet food safety. We had been advised that the report of the minister's pet food working group would be considered by state agriculture ministers last month, and now it seems that this won't happen until next month—maybe. Minister, why have agriculture ministers still not met to discuss this report? What is the delay? And why isn't there more urgency, given that we keep having more dog deaths while we wait?

Senator McKENZIE (VictoriaMinister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience, Minister for Regionalisation, Regional Communications and Regional Education and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:24): I thank Senator Griff not only for his question but also for his concern on behalf of pet owners across the country. I'm advised that the pet food working group, which was established with the agreement of all agriculture ministers, is currently finalising its advice to the ministers. The report of the pet food working group will be considered by senior agriculture officials in September 2021—this month. It has to go to those senior officials before then going to state and federal agriculture ministers at their ministerial council, which is planned to be held next month, for decision.

Minister Littleproud has responded to the letter signed by the RSPCA, the Australian Veterinary Association and the Pet Food Industry Association, informing them of the status of the report of the pet food working group. He's also written to agriculture ministers across the country to inform them of expected timing for advice to be received from the pet food review working group, as implementation of any regulatory options for pet food remains a decision for state and territory governments. It comes to the ministerial council next month. It will then be up to each and every state and territory minister to then return home to their jurisdiction and implement any decision that that body makes. Some are obviously going to be quicker at doing that than others. Some will have more will to do that than others.

Minister Littleproud has asked ministers to consider the working group report and the desire of many for a positive outcome for pets and pet owners when deciding on the best way forward to ensure the safety of pet food. He is also aware of the reports of deaths of pet dogs, linked to the consumption of raw pet meat from a knackery in Victoria. Since the end of May, it has been reported that at least 24 pet dogs have died and 68 have been hospitalised in Victoria.

Senator GRIFF : The RSPCA, the Australian Veterinary Association and the industry peak body, the Pet Food Industry Association, have also taken issue, of course, with the delayed reforms. They are calling particularly for a mandatory standard and mandatory recalls, as the Senate inquiry recommended. Will the states entertain these particular recommendations, or are they doomed?

Senator McKENZIE : Thank you, Senator Griff. As I outlined in my previous answer, it will be a decision for state and territory ministers whether to adopt a mandatory or voluntary regulatory framework. That decision obviously isn't going to be made until next month, so it's a bit premature to be making a call on that. That's obviously a decision for those ministers in that forum. But the concerns of the bodies you spoke about—the RSPCA, the Australian Veterinary Association and the Pet Food Industry Association—have been made clear not just to the federal agriculture minister but, I imagine, to jurisdictional ministers as well. Agriculture Victoria and PrimeSafe, as the responsible regulatory authorities in Victoria, led the investigation into the dog deaths and hospitalisations I mentioned in my earlier answer. They found that there was a toxin, found in native plants in northern Australia, which has been confirmed as the cause.

Senator GRIFF : Minister, I appreciate what you're saying and the fact that the states do have the final say, but a key issue has been that there is no proper mechanism on a national basis for mandatory recalls. Should the states opt not to do what the industry associations wish to do, would the minister consider working out some format that could work on a national basis?

Senator McKENZIE : There are strong food safety regulatory controls in place to prevent pet meat entering the human food supply chain, but I do appreciate that you are speaking about the animal food supply chain. Responsibility for the domestic oversight of raw pet meat and processed pet food sits with the states and territories. The Commonwealth's responsibilities extend to regulation and certification of exported pet food and addressing the biosecurity risks of imported pet food.

As I said, the minister has welcomed the parliamentary inquiry into the pet food industry. Our government's response to the recommendations was tabled in parliament on 18 June. The report that is coming before senior officials and the agriculture ministers over coming months considers the recommendations of your Senate committee report and will include regulatory and nonregulatory options to manage the health and safety of pet food in Australia.

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