A senior figure in the Australian meat industry agrees that the introduction of Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) for the toxic chemicals, PFAS, in a range of foods is only a matter of time.
Andrew Henderson, the outgoing independent chair of the SAFEMEAT advisory group, said quite possibly that would be the case because PFAS was an issue that was definitely not going away.
"And that's why partnerships and organisations like SAFEMEAT need to remain really vigilant about this and any other chemical and residue of concern as these things are only becoming more and more an issue when it comes to international trade," he said.
"And, as international trade becomes more volatile...protecting our reputation and the integrity of our product, and safety of our product is of the utmost importance."
Mr Henderson said PFAS was in the top three issues to be dealt with by SAFEMEAT and one which was first raised in 2016.
He said it was not SAFEMEAT's job, however, to introduce MRLs, but if SAFEMEAT felt there was evidence for a need for MRLs on PFAS it could provide advice to that effect.
Mr Henderson's comments follow concerns from former industry leader, Larry Acton, last week about possible PFAS contamination in beef and the repercussions to market access if PFAS residues are detected in Australian beef by, for example, the European Union which has MRLs for PFAS in meat.
Mr Acton's property, Frog's Hollow, was found to have bore water with high concentrations of PFAS from PFAS fire fighting foam used at nearby the Callide Power Station, which has subsequently leached out of its settling ponds into the nearby underground aquifer.
And, while CS Energy, the owner of Callide Power Station, has organised for clean water for the house and garden on Mr Acton's property, it has declined to supply clean water for Mr Acton's cattle.
Mr Henderson acknowledged that if Australian beef tested positive to levels of PFAS higher than the EU's MRLs on PFAS then that could be the trigger to introduce MRLs for PFAS in beef in Australia.
Also, in response to Mr Acton's comments, Cattle Australia (CA) chief executive officer Dr Chris Parker said his organisation was aware of the concerns raised about PFAS in Australian beef products and continued to actively engage with the relevant regulators who were responsible for assessing the risks.
"PFAS is a global issue that impacts all countries, and the situation is not straightforward," Dr Parker said.
"We do, however, appreciate the concerns of producers and consumers, and will continue working with industry and government to ensure Australian beef maintains its safe-eating reputation in domestic and global markets.
"As part of the 27th Australian Total Diet Study (ATDS), Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) investigated levels of PFAS in a range of foods and beverages common to the Australian diet.
"The results show that Australian consumers' exposure to PFAS through food is very low and poses no food safety concerns.
"The study also found PFAS levels in the general Australian food supply are as low as reasonably achievable, and there are no public health and safety concerns for the general Australian population."
Mr Henderson said considering the significant public interest in PFAS generally, SAFEMEAT has a working group established to maintain a watching brief on PFAS, particularly as it pertains to advice that comes from FSANZ.
"And... to manage any kind of residue issues associated with PFAS that might affect food safety or export market access if and when that might be required," he said.
The 27th ATDS which CA and SAFEMEAT primarily rely on for their stance on PFAS was released in October 2021, more than two years ago.
Since October 2021, a study examining the potential health impacts of PFAS in Oakey, Katherine and Williamtown found evidence of elevated blood serum concentrations of PFAS in residents and workers, and an association between higher PFAS levels in blood and higher cholesterol.
In May 2023, the federal government settled a class action over PFAS contamination from fire fighting foam, paying $132.7 million to 30,000 claimants in Wagga Wagga, Richmond, Wodonga, Darwin, Townsville, Edinburgh and Bullsbrook.
And, in June 2023, American chemical company, DuPont and two related companies, agreed to pay out nearly $1.2 billion to settle liability claims brought by public water systems in the US over PFAS contamination.
Dr Parker said a strong science and risk-based approach was applied in Australia, with government recommendations provided to reduce exposure to PFAS if in an area of any contamination.
"The Australian meat industry follows a similar science and risk-based approach, and has maintained an ongoing review of any necessary industry actions through a committee of SAFEMEAT.
"To date, this review has determined that no actions are required under the Livestock Production Assurance program and that no declarations regarding PFAS are required on a National Vendor Declaration that accompanies the movement of all cattle and sheep."
Dr Parker said the issue of PFAS was an evolving area and in January 2023, the European Commission established maximum limits (MLs) in food of animal origin for four PFAS compounds.
"The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) provides certification for exports of animal-derived food, including assurances that consignments are unlikely to contain violative residues," he said.
"The likelihood of detection of levels of PFAS above the European Union (EU) MLs in food exports is considered to be low.
"CA is actively monitoring the situation and is aware that DAFF is considering the implications of these limits for exports, including whether to introduce a monitoring program through the National Residue Survey (NRS) for PFAS to support EU trade. If required, we would support such action.
"CA is maintaining a watching brief regarding PFAS residues relevant to exports, and continues to work within SAFEMEAT - a partnership between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments and the red meat industry - on this issue."
Mr Henderson said discussions around the cost of testing for PFAS residues in Australian meat were premature.
"But, as with any other chemical residue, if it's a risk to market access, the cost is what it is, you just have to wear the cost associated with ensuring you're maintaining a product's integrity to the international marketplace," he said.
SAFEMEAT is a partnership between industry and government who come together on policy to underpin the integrity of meat safety and Australia's internationally recognised disease-free status