Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Mad Cow Backflip Denies Science

By Simon Grose

Politicians have given in to public fears about the safety of beef imports rather than doing “what the science tells us”.

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Doing “what the science tells us” is a powerful slogan in the climate debate. Labor and the Greens invoke the weight of scientific opinion when they argue for action on climate change, scorning opponents as science “deniers”.

Agriculture Minister Tony Burke was consistent on this score when he cited scientific evidence as the reason for lifting a blanket ban on beef imports from countries that have recorded cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. BSE is caused by proteins in animal products contained in processed cattle food. Humans who eat BSE-infected meat can contract the cruel Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Under his decision, which came into effect on 1 March, countries that had reported cases of BSE could apply to sell beef products to Australia. Approval would be subject to assessment by Food Standards Australia New Zealand of each country’s controls to ensure that their beef came from animals free of BSE. That covers the threat to human health.

As for the chance that BSE-infected material could get into our cattle feed, Australian regulations do not allow imported material to be fed to cattle and we do not allow live imports of cattle. “Where there’s no scientific argument to say there’s a problem, we can’t go around just erecting barriers for the sake of it,” Burke told ABC’s Country Hour in early February.

The day after the new policy...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.