Pet Food Safety

24 November 2021

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:22): My question is to Senator McKenzie, representing the Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia. In the first week of November, state and federal agriculture ministers met and considered the recommendations of the pet food working group. This meeting came a staggering four years after dozens of dogs started dying after consuming a brand of dry kibble and exactly three years after the Senate handed down the report Regulatory approaches to ensure the safety of pet food. As usual, there was no outcome from the November meeting. Apparently ministers are now going to wait on a cost-benefit analysis of some kind. Minister, why is the federal government and its state and territory counterparts not acting with greater urgency, instead acting like an errant new puppy by chewing up the paperwork, dropping the ball and running away from taking urgent action?

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) (14:23): I thank Senator Griff for his question and for his ongoing interest in this serious issue. My advice from the minister for agriculture is that there remains a high level of community interest in the safety of pet food following the pet food incidents in 2018 and more recently in Victoria.

A pet food working group was established with the agreement of all agriculture ministers, and they welcomed the Senate inquiry into the pet food industry in 2018. That working group has developed a range of regulatory and non-regulatory options for consideration, as you said, by state and territory governments.

ABARES has also updated its 2012 report on the economic assessment of policy options to manage pet food safety in Australia. The report includes options for self-regulation, co-regulation and full government regulation. The reports of the pet food working group and ABARES were considered by agriculture senior officials on 16 September 2021 and again on 30 September 2021. It was agreed that a cost-benefit analysis of all the policy options would be undertaken before making recommendations to ministers on which options should be pursued. As you would appreciate, decisions of this nature that do go to state and territory regulatory frameworks do need to be able to assess how much it will cost, what the unseen circumstances are going to be if we go for the full regulatory option, who is going to bear the cost for that and what the implications are for state and territory ministers as they consider adopting those regulatory frameworks.

Given your usual concern about the efficient use of taxpayer spending, I'm— (Time expired)

Senator GRIFF : Minister, four years is a very long time to get to the point of even considering a cost-benefit analysis, and I'm not sure how a cost-benefit analysis will be accepted by people who've lost many pets over many years. Can you detail what reforms are actually on the table and what changes pet owners can expect to see?

Senator McKENZIE : I do recognise the grief that is caused by losing pets, particularly around this type of issue, which could be avoided. I assure you that the Commonwealth is taking its role in this very, very seriously. But, as you would appreciate, working with state and territory ministers can have its challenges in harmonising regulations across the different areas of government.

The other issue that I'm advised has been undertaken is a review of the Australian standard, Manufacturing and marketing of pet food. That was also supported by the Agriculture Senior Officials' Committee, as well as by jurisdictions, industry and other key stakeholders. I think it's important to note that this process has been conducted in a careful and considered manner and in consultation with all the relevant stakeholders, and that there hasn't been consensus on the best option for state and territory ministers to pursue. (Time expired)

Senator GRIFF : Minister, in your view, would any of the measures currently undergoing this cost-benefit analysis actually prevent future deaths of pets from unsafe food?

Senator McKENZIE : As you know, Senator Griff, I represent the minister for agriculture and I'm not the minister myself, so I'm acting on advice. But I'm confident that all ministers involved want to see a positive resolution to this.

My understanding is that the Commonwealth agriculture minister has written to state and territory ministers and asked that they consider the outcomes of that review into the Australian standards of manufacturing and consider the desire of many for a positive outcome for pets and pet owners when deciding the best way forward. He has also concluded the pet food review working group, and thanked all the members for their participation. He anticipates that the reports from that working group and ABARES will be made public by the end of this year. As responsibility for the domestic oversight for pet food sits with the jurisdictions, this will ultimately be a decision for state and territory ministers—whether to adopt a mandatory regulatory framework or to continue to operate under the current— (Time expired)

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