Questions: Covid-19 Vaccines: Livestock
Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (14:42): My question is for the Minister for
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Minister Watt. You previously discussed the topic of livestock mRNA vaccines at one of your agriculture minister meetings. Can you provide us an update on the progress of mRNA for livestock which are intended for human consumption? Have any trials of mRNA vaccine commenced in Australia for livestock? If not, are you going to commence them? If you are going to do it, for how long?
Senator WATT (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister for Emergency Management) (14:43): Thank you, Senator Babet. I note that you now join Labor senators in asking questions about agriculture, and I look forward to the National Party one day joining you in sharing your interest in the agriculture sector of Australia. Maybe we will get there one day. Again, Senator Babet, I know that the issues around vaccines are of great interest to you. I can inform you that
currently there are no mRNA vaccines currently registered for use in livestock in Australia, and there are no vaccines that are mandatory for any Australian livestock under the Biosecurity Act.
I am certainly aware, like you, Senator Babet, of some discussion that is occurring and some trials and things like that in relation to mRNA vaccines, and there is a lot of interest about that in the agriculture community and the wider community. I am aware that a research project funded by Meat & Livestock Australia is currently being undertaken by the New South Wales government, and that project has commenced trials on the immunological response to an mRNA vaccine construct in Canada.
There is work starting to happen with Australian industry in partnership with state governments on these issues, but, at the moment, these trials are being undertaken to determine whether mRNA vaccines are safe and effective for animals. I think, implicit in your question, was an acknowledgement that we do need to make sure that, as new vaccines and products come online, they are safe, both for livestock and for the humans who may consume the livestock in the form of meat. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has the role of evaluating the safety and efficacy of veterinary vaccines and chemicals before permitting or registering them for use. That includes whether meat from animals vaccinated with mRNA vaccines would be safe to eat. I think it is fair to say that we are at a very early stage of looking at what mRNA vaccines can do, and the safety of animals and humans is paramount.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, a first supplementary?
Senator BABET (14:45): My next question would be: If we ever do approve mRNA for animals, if that day comes—or rather, when that day comes, I have a feeling is a better way to put it—will your government, if you are still in government, commit to labelling food products made from animals that have been injected with mRNA? Because I don’t want to eat that stuff and I think there are a lot of people that
don’t want to eat that stuff either.
Senator WATT (14:45): I do look forward to a long period of the Albanese government and I look forward to receiving questions from you for a long time to come as well. Matters of labelling, as you are probably aware, are also the responsibility of the APVMA, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. One of the things they take into account in authorising a product for use is its safety. They also have responsibility around the labelling of those products to make sure that consumers are fully informed of what they are buying and to make sure farmers are fully aware of what they may be using in their farming activities. mRNA is a natural part of all animal bodies. The safety and efficacy of mRNA vaccines developed for use in animals will be assessed as part of any registration process.
Australia’s food safety standards are strictly applied for all food intended for human consumption. I can assure you and the broader public that we will be taking the safety matters that you are concerned about into account.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, a second supplementary?
Senator BABET (14:46): Let’s say that one day mRNA is being injected into livestock to be used for human consumption; it is realistic that this could happen. If this does happen,
will you or your government ever seek to make it mandatory for producers to inject their animals, much like how all of you here made it mandatory for people—otherwise, they would lose their jobs? Will you make it mandatory for animals?
The PRESIDENT: Minister Wong on a point of order?
Senator Wong: I have a point of order about that question. I appreciate that the minister will answer what he is able to, but it is by definition a hypothetical question.
The PRESIDENT: Yes, it is a hypothetical question. Senator Babet, the minister may choose to answer it or
Senator Wong interjecting—
The PRESIDENT: Minister Wong, I need to call you. Minister Wong.
Senator Wong: As I said, Senator Babet—through the chair—I am sure Senator Watt will answer what he is able to but I do think, as a matter of practice, we ought not. It is incumbent on me to raise for the President that the question is hypothetical and, as such, is not in order.
The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Wong. I am going to invite the minister to answer the parts of the
question he can.
Senator WATT (14:47): As has been observed, there are lots of ifs, butts and maybes in that question. The broad point you are making is whether I can see a day when it would be mandatory for livestock producers to inject mRNA into their animals and the short answer to that question is no. As I have said in answer to your earlier questions, before an agricultural or veterinary chemical product can be legally supplied, sold or used in Australia, it must be registered by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority or approved for use under permit.
The APVMA has advised they have not registered or approved under permit any mRNA vaccines in Australia for vets. We are at a very early stage. The project and research undertaken at the moment are about ensuring the safety of using mRNA vaccines, both in terms of the safety of livestock and the safety of humans who would go on to consume that livestock.