The Australian beef industry has moved quickly to provide China with improved assurances about hormone growth promotants (HGPs) following Russia's ban on Australian beef last month over the apparent detection of HGP residues.
From Thursday, HGP screening protocols for the Chinese market have added national vendor declarations (NVDs) to the national residue survey now used to screen for residues in beef bound for China.
Australian Meat Industry Council spokesman Tom Maguire said the use of NVDs would add extra assurances that China-bound beef was HGP-free, a long-standing requirement of that market.
The Federal Department of Agriculture's latest "Market Access Advice" said China classified "synthetic HGPs including trenbolone acetate and zeranol as veterinary drugs prohibited for use and that must not be detected in animal-derived food".
The advice note adds that, "China classifies natural HGPs, including estradiol, progesterone and testosterone as "veterinary drugs allowed for therapeutic use but must not be detected in animal-derived food".
To date, China has been satisfied with national residue survey testing, which routinely assesses carcasses from each licensed exporter for unwanted residues.
Mr Maguire said the use of NVDs would tighten HGP-free verification to a shipment-by-shipment basis, a move Australian beef exporters believed was necessary to alleviate China's concerns after the Russian ban.
For their part, the Chinese will continue port-of-entry testing for HGP residues in Australian beef consignments.
"Any detection of a synthetic hormone, or a detection of a naturally occurring hormone at levels higher that the normal physiological levels, will result in rejection of the consignment and possible delistment of the plant," the advice note said.
Although HGPs are finding growing favour with grass-fed beef producers, their use has become routine in feedlots which supply 80 to 90 per cent of growth promotant-treated cattle.
Australian Lot Feeders' Association chief executive Dougal Gordon said there were uncertainties over the level of detection of naturally ocurring hormones that the Chinese were testing for.
"Synthetics are prohibited – that's quite clear. But can we manage natural HGPs into the market? I know that after reading that market advice, there are some uncertainties about whether that's possible," he said.
For instance, Mr Gordon said, when beef was tested for a natural hormone like oestrogen – also used as a growth promotant – how do you determine what are naturally high levels of oestrogen, and what might be artificially added HGP?
"How we manage that as an industry, I don't know. Whether we want to manage it, and take that risk – I don't know."
The story China tightens screws to detect HGPs in beef imports first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.