The deadly mantra of free trade has threatened the existence of the $358 million Australian prawn industry after white spot disease contaminated prawn farms in the Logan River south of Brisbane.
Imported raw green prawns from Vietnam, Thailand and China where the highly contagious white spot virus is rampant, have wiped out southern farms, forcing the government to place a ban on imports of green prawns.
Infected prawns die quickly and all the Logan River farms have been destocked in the hope of decontaminating the river.
It is thought that green prawns used for fish bait, were the source of contamination.
Although the virus has no effect upon humans, it would have a serious economic impact on the seafood industry in southern Queensland.
North Queensland farms have not yet contracted the virus and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says the priority was to protect the northern industry which catches 20,000 tonnes of wild prawns and farms another 5200 tonnes worth $86 m annually.
Chinese prawn importer, Sino, had its import licence revoked on Friday and will face serious criminal charges for breaching Australian quarantine laws.
Sino and four other companies allegedly were caught providing samples of non-infected green prawns for biosecurity testing by the Federal Agriculture department when their imported consignments were known to be infected.
Four more foreign importers are in the government sights allegedly for deliberately breaching biosecurity rules.
Other imported products such as cooked, marinated or crumbed prawns do not carry the virus.
Federal Member for Kennedy, Bob Katter whose electorate has a prawn farm, warned the Federal Government not to allow imports from white spot infected countries.
“All other ‘smart’ countries won’t import seafood from a country that has white spot, Mr Katter remarked.
“But we have some of the lowest quarantine protections in the world.
“Quite frankly I can’t think of anything that has been stopped from coming in.
“Out of probably 100 horticultural applications, all have been agreed too, similarly with seafood.
“Australia has for some time been a net importer of seafood. We pleaded with the authorities to refuse the application to bring in imported prawns. They brought in prawns. Now we have white spot.”
The grocery duopoly, Woolworths and Coles, being the largest retailers of imported prawns, have found themselves smack in the middle of the industry crisis, that Logan River farmers say will eventually kill off all farmed prawns.
The duopoly, best known for not supporting local farmers, enforcing low farm-gate prices and dodgy supply contracts has remained quiet, but should take the blame for the impending destruction of the local prawn industry square on the nose.
The Liberal, National and Labor free trade policies have produced the toxic fruit of Australian primary industries.
Fortunately American President-elect Donald Trump has sounded the death knell for free trade but it will be too late for Australia.