Australian and international farm policy news

457 visas scrapped

In April, the Federal Government announced that it will scrap the 457 visa for skilled foreign workers – raising concerns about potentially higher costs, red tape, and rural worker shortages. Abattoirs, food processors, piggeries, dairy farms and regional tourism operators are the big users of the 457 visa scheme outside of the cities.

The meat industry has slammed the Federal Government saying there has been no consultation, despite being the largest employer of skilled foreign workers. The Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) said 20% of the 95,000 workers here on the visa (or 15,000 workers), work in meat processing or further up the supply chain in small goods production or at butchers’ shops. The Victorian Farmers Federations’ Pig Group president John Burke labelled the move a ‘most stupid decision’ due to the difficulty it will create for rural employers: ‘It will make it harder to source the people we need.’

Brazilian meat scandal

Brazil, the world’s largest meat exporter, has been hit with export beef bans from some of its key markets following a major corruption scandal. On 17 March, Brazilian police announced: ‘Operation Weak Flesh’ – a two-year investigation that revealed evidence that some meatpackers had bribed crooked inspectors to pass off rotten and adulterated meat as safe. Food giants JBS SA and BRF SA have been caught up in the scandal.

Six food processing plants were ordered to temporarily close and 21 plants, included in the police investigation, were banned from exporting any product – although they may still produce for the domestic market. Following announcement of the investigation, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Egypt, Chile, and the European Union announced import suspensions, most of which have now been lifted (although still restricting imports from plants under investigation).

The Brazilian President Michel Temer has pointed out, several times, that only 184 consignments of meat were deemed by importers to be in violation of standards, among the 853,000 consignments exported in 2016. The investigation has hit one of the few strong sectors in Brazil’s economy, which is experiencing its worst recession on record.

Further sweeteners in Australia-Japan trade deal

The fourth round of tariff cuts negotiated through the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) take effect from 1 April 2017 with the big winners beef, seafood, cheese, fruit and honey. Japan is currently the second biggest importer of Australian agricultural products representing $4.7 billion worth of trade in 2016.

The largest tariff cuts will apply to chilled and frozen beef, dropping to 29.9% and 27.2% respectively, down from 38.5%. Beef remains Australia’s leading agricultural export to Japan, worth $1.8 billion in 2016.

NT Government warns NBN on ‘technically inferior’ service

The Northern Territory Government has issued a warning to the National Broadband Network (NBN) saying it is too often rolling out ‘technically inferior’ satellite services. In a submission to a parliamentary committee, The NT Government’s submission says in a national disaster, satellite communications are likely to fail precisely at the time a community needs them most. Business owners in remote parts of the Territory, say their NBN satellite connection is at best patchy and that satellite signals drop out during severe weather. 

Data sabotage could lead to failed crops

A BBC news report has suggested that fake data – altering databases and documents without anyone noticing – is a fiendishly subtle and potentially very dangerous new cyber threat.

The article says that centrally held data for a key metric such as soil fertility (used by many arable farmers to organise their planting schedules) is vulnerable to being changed and that, unless such an attack was noticed quickly, it could have devastating consequences because the sabotaged data would kick off actions that played out over months and years. If, for example, this data were changed it could end in failed crops, food shortages and, in a worst case scenario, famine.

‘That data is used to drive another process, and lots of decisions are made on that basis,’ says Jason Hart from security firm Gemalto. ‘You have no way of going back once a decision is made and the impact has happened,’ says Mr Hart. ‘There’s a real amplifier effect to that kind of problem.’

Other scenarios could include the ‘poisoning’ of supply chain data, so that the wrong stuff gets sent to the wrong places.

Image:  USDA