The federal government is imposing a suspension on the importation of green prawns into Australia amid an outbreak of white spot disease in Queensland, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce announced on Friday.
The disease was initially detected in late November 2016 and confirmed as an outbreak of white spot disease in December that has now affected four farming properties on the Logan River between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Joyce told the ABC.
"What we have is a white spot disease, not dangerous to humans, but it is deadly to prawns... I was told that they are detecting white spot in imported green prawns that you buy in the shop for human consumption," he said.
"But that, for me, is a huge concern... we are going to have a suspension on the importation of green prawns into Australia to try and get on top of this issue straight away."
Joyce said the importation of green prawns into Australia generates more than $50 million per year and as a result, the government looks to examine the production processes of overseas importing companies.
"We have already gone to one of those prawn importers, and said, well, we are going to revoke your capacity to import. Now we are also investigating another," he said.
"There is the suspicion that they have not followed the proper protocols, they have been outside the protocols, which is the law of the land on how you import prawns into this country."
Joyce also said the government is concerned the affected prawns could be used as bait and spread the disease via waterways.
The affected farms are now being chlorinated, with other farms in the vicinity under quarantine, to attempt to remove the outbreak.
"It is an insurance against what could possibly happen. We are 100% sure that we have detected white spot in imported green prawns," he said.
"What I can say - if you are buying green prawns or you have bought them from the retail outlets, please do not put them in a waterway or use them as bait. If you cook a prawn, it kills the white spot in any case."
The Deputy Prime Minister also suggested the outbreak had the capacity to devastate the Australian prawn industry if not contained and the suspension would be maintained until the government was sure the outbreak had been eradicated among green prawns in the country, despite market prices possibly being affected.
"I would rather deal with this action than have to deal with the ramifications that we didn't take all mechanisms at our disposal to try to make sure that we eradicate the disease, and stop the possibility of further spread of the disease, and that is why we have to take these sort of actions today."
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