Lack of pet food industry reform sickening
Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:22): My question is to Senator Canavan, representing the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. Yesterday the media ran a story saying Minister Littleproud asked the working group reviewing pet food regulation to expedite its work. That group was set up following the outbreak of incurable megaesophagus, which struck down well over 100 dogs and which Melbourne University's U-vet linked to ADVANCE Dermocare dry dog food. The Senate inquiry into the safety of the $4 billion pet food industry tabled its report in October last year. This report made seven recommendations, including that the working group be directed to look at mechanisms for mandatory pet food standards and mandatory labelling requirements, and also consider better testing such as feeding trials in the standards. Has the minister directed the working group to consider the recommendations of the Senate report, and to also review the evidence and submissions presented to the inquiry?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:23): I thank Senator Griff for his question. Minister Littleproud has welcomed the findings of the parliamentary inquiry into the pet food industry. As you mentioned, Senator Griff, the report was released late last year, October last year, with a number of recommendations around standards and accountability. Minister Littleproud has written to his state and territory counterparts following that review, requesting support for a review into the safety and regulation of pet food. My understanding is that all states and territories have replied and support such a review.
Minister Littleproud has advised me that the review working group that is taking forward this review has met twice. It is reviewing the Australian standards for the manufacturing and marketing of pet food and the legislation covering pet food. The group will report back to the agricultural senior officials committee within the next 12 months. The safety and regulation of pet food was last reviewed in 2012. The Australian standard for the manufacturing and marketing of pet food was developed at that time. This standard was reviewed and updated in 2017. Australia exports a range of pet food products which are regulated differently depending on product risk file and importing country requirements, although my understanding and advice here is that most of the regulation around pet food is handled by states and territories in consultation through the COAG process.
Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:24): Minister, can you advise if the working group's findings will be made public given the high degree of public interest in pet food regulation following the outbreak of megaesophagus and, indeed, in the last week, a very high profile dog food brand having a worldwide recall?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:24): I don't have information, Senator Griff, on whether the working group will make its findings public. I will take that on notice. I can, however, outline to the Senate that the review working group consists of representatives from the department, the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia, the Australian Veterinary Association, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Safe Food Production Queensland, and veterinarians from Agriculture Victoria and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.
You are right around some of the events in recent times that are particularly linked to megaesophagus. However, the information I have is that, in the instance here, while the primary cause is perhaps related to the issues you have raised, there is potentially a multifactorial reason for some of those incidents. We are carrying out more extensive laboratory ingredient testing to come to the bottom of those issues.
Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:25): Minister, I hope you can take on notice that last question as to whether it will be made public. Given it has been four months since the Senate inquiry submitted its report, and over a year since those dogs died, can you advise when the government intends to release its response to the Senate inquiry recommendations? If you can't provide a date, will you guarantee that the government will respond before we go to an election?
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (14:26): I apologise, Senator Griff, if you did not hear me earlier. I did take on notice your second question. I apologise; I'll have to take that question on notice as well. I don't have detail in front of me about when the government response will be finalised.