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Australia suspends importation of green prawns from Asia

Xinhua, January 6, 2017 Adjust font size:

Australia on Friday suspended the importation of green prawns from countries that have white spot disease, after infected produce was sold at local markets, potentially responsible for the outbreak of the virus in Queensland state.

Authorities have suspended the import licence of one company and is investigating four others for allegedly breaking biosecurity controls in importing infected product. If found guilty, it amounts to a criminal offence.

Australia's Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce told Australia's national broadcaster authorities that it was not 100 percent certain the outbreak was caused by those companies, however the import suspension is an "insurance" against what could happen to the approximately 360 million Australian dollar (263.8 million U.S. dollar) local industry.

"(Authorities) are detecting white spot in imported green prawns that you buy in the shop for human consumption. That, for me, is a huge concern," Joyce said.

Australia is battling to contain an outbreak of the disease after produce in five farms on the Logan River, just south of Brisbane in Queensland State, were tested positive to White Spot.

Infected crustaceans do not pose a health risk to humans, however the disease does cause high mortality rates in farmed and wild stocks. Farmed prawn production typically drops to 40 percent of normal levels for two years, before recovering to approximately 70 percent over the long term.

All five infected farms are undergoing a chlorination process to "basically kill everything" after white spot was also detected in crabs in the local vicinity, while non-infected farms have been quarantined to continue production, Joyce said.

Australia in the 2014/15 financial year produced 19,777 tonnes of wild prawns, worth 272 million Australian dollars (199.32 million U.S. dollars), while aquaculture added 5,282 tonnes of production, worth 86.3 million Australian dollars (63.23 million U.S. dollars).

Conversely, Australia imported 48,000 tonnes of fresh (raw) and processed (cooked) prawns under strict biosecurity controls from Asia.

Australia was previously considered free of the virus which has decimated farmed prawn stocks in Asia after successfully battling an outbreak in the Northern Territory in 2000.

Local officials contend the disease has not established itself in wild crustacean populations.

The import suspension will be eased once Australia is at "a point where we are certain that we minimize our risks, and then work back to a methodical position," Joyce said, though no timeframe was given. Endit