Why didn’t the chicken cross the road?

…or the oceans, in the case of chicken meat available to Australian consumers.

Consumers often associate the beef and lamb that they buy as having been grown in Australia, but are not so confident about the origin of their chicken meat.

Well, good news! Almost all chicken meat available for you to buy in Australia is grown domestically!

To protect Australian agriculture and consumers from diseases of poultry, including those that can also infect wild birds, raw chicken meat from all other countries can only be imported under strict protocols. To date poultry producers in other countries have been unable to meet these requirements. The exception to this is chicken grown in New Zealand, which has a similar favourable disease status to Australia.

Not only do these restrictions on importation protect our local poultry flocks and wild birds, they also protect Australians from a range of public health risks that are more prevalent in some other countries.

Only some highly processed, fully retorted or cooked in-packaging chicken meat products can currently be imported. The high temperatures and prolonged cooking used to treat these products effectively sterilizes them. These foods – which include products such as canned chicken and some soups – account for only a small amount (less than 1%) of the chicken consumed in Australia.

While no raw chicken meat is able to cross any ocean, a small amount of chicken meat is imported from New Zealand – but that doesn’t count, because that’s only crossing a sea!

So consumers can be assured that, aside from a minuscule quantity of product from New Zealand, all fresh and frozen raw chicken meat and virtually all further processed and cooked chicken products that are offered for sale in Australia have been produced in Australia (and I mean the chickens have been grown on Australian farms, and processed in Australian processing plants, to Australian standards).

What about the future?

Australia’s tight biosecurity arrangements and protocols will hopefully continue to ensure that Australian consumers and our chicken flocks are protected from the risks of imported chicken meat, but there are always threats that these arrangements will be undermined and both the industry and consumers need to be vigilant.

Think I’m exaggerating these risks? Well consider the impacts of White Spot disease, a highly contagious viral disease of crustaceans including prawns, crabs, yabbies and lobsters that was introduced into Australia in imported prawns last year. Following its discovery on Queensland prawn farms back in November 2016 the disease has had a devastating impact on Queensland’s $87 million farmed prawn industry. Fortunately, white spot disease only affects crustaceans; it does not pose a threat to human health or food safety. But another example shows that Australian consumers can also be exposed to food safety risks through imports. Remember the frozen berries recalls in February 2015, then again in June 2017? These stemmed from imported frozen berries which were linked to hepatitis A cases in Australia.

We know that Australians want to know more about the origin of the food they’re consuming. The good news for those concerned that their chicken meat has been grown and produced in Australia to Australia’s high standards of food safety and animal welfare, is that from 1 July 2018, Australia’s new country of origin labelling standards will come into force and will require most foods (including all chicken products) to be labelled to indicate where they came from. To understand the new laws and what the labels means, and to learn how to recognise your chicken has been produced in Australia, see http://www.foodlabels.industry.gov.au/.

In the meantime, continue to enjoy your homegrown Aussie chicken, safe in the knowledge that it has been produced here in Australia, by Australian farmers, and to the highest standards.

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