Pinjarra piggery's leaders jailed for smuggling in Danish pig semen

The judge dismissed the idea that the scheme was an innocent mistake.
The judge dismissed the idea that the scheme was an innocent mistake.

A WA piggery that smuggled Danish pig semen in shampoo bottles, thereby risking a virus dubbed the 'pig plague' entering Australia, has been fined $500,000, and the two men at its helm have been jailed.

GD Pork, director Torben Soerensen, 39, and breeding manager Henning Laue, 74, were sentenced in Perth District Court on Tuesday over their involvement in the importation of the biosecurity hazard.

Soerensen received a minimum jail term of 18 months, while Laue was imprisoned for a minimum eight months.

The court heard the Pinjarra piggery began smuggling the European semen into its operations in 2009 in order to introduce foreign DNA into its breeding program as Danish pigs produced on average seven more piglets per year than Australian pigs.

The program breached Australia's biosecurity rules which require pig stocks to be 'closed genetic herds', meaning breeding using foreign genes is not permitted, to prevent the spread of disease.

Pig plague, or porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, was first reported in the United States in the 1980s, and spread across western Europe in 1990s.

Symptoms of the viral disease include infertility, stillborn piglets, and pneumonia. PRRS remains the most economically significant disease impacting US pig production despite ongoing attempts to eradicate the disease.

It has not been detected in Australia.

The WA piggery risked PRRS entering the country when it devised its scheme to import Danish pig semen through Perth Airport by hiding the substance in bottles, including shampoo containers.

The pig semen, which had less than a 0.3 per cent risk of being infected, was smuggled in through luggage carried by the company's Danish directors.

Over the course of the offending, at least 199 female pigs were inseminated at the Pinjarra piggery, and around 2450 piglets born with Danish genes.

The Crown argued analysis and tracking of the breeding program showed piglet litter numbers were increasing - which was attributed to improved infrastructure and feeding programs at the piggery, coupled with the illegal activity.

The piggery's statistics showed its female pigs were producing 26.5 piglets a year, 6.5 piglets more than the Australian average.

Emails sent by Soerensen revealed the managing director thought the success of the illegal breeding scheme was "leaving others behind" and that "many people would probably start wondering why" the program was doing so well.

The success prompted the company to break away from its external breeding supplier in 2015 to manage the program in-house so "nobody would have access to the results".

The scheme was shut down after a tip-off to the Department of Agriculture in 2017.

No trace of PRRS was found.

The piggery, which has collapsed since its practices were exposed, had accounted for around 10 per cent of WA's pig market, with its animals destined for slaughter or in-house breeding.

The piggery was set up by Soerensen in 2007 on behalf of four Danish-based investors who paid $5 million for three south-west farming properties to be purchased.

The directors are alleged to be the instigators of the illegal importation, which spanned eight years from 2009 to 2017 and included 22 illegal importations.

Soerensen's involvement began in 2011, while Laue's commenced in 2015.

Both men, who are Danish-born, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the illegal importation of Danish pig semen that gave GD Pork an unfair commercial advantage.

Laue immigrated from Denmark in 2014, to take up a job at the piggery. A year later he was heading its breeding program and advising others on what type of semen would best suit.

His lawyer argued Laue assumed the importation was legal, and once he realised it was not, he had already moved himself and his young family to Australia.

Soerensen's lawyer argued his client was a "man of integrity", and that the scheme was part of a broader strategy for the pigs to be as fertile as possible.

He claimed the commercial benefit Soerensen gained from the scheme was small, however, Crown prosecutor Jackie Stewart disagreed, saying the commercial advantage would have compounded over time as more of the pig stock displayed Danish genes.

Judge Troy Sweeney described the offending, led by the company's board members, as "blatant", "arrogant" and "not worth the risk" to Australia's biosecurity.

Australian Pork Limited chief executive, Margo Andrae, released a statement shortly after the men were jailed supporting the sentence.

"These producers' actions openly flouted Australia's strict biosecurity laws and had the potential to damage Australia's $5.3 billion pork industry, as well as the livelihoods of more than 2,500 Australian pig farmers and 36,000 supply chain workers," she said.

"At a time when Australia's pork industry and the Australian Government is focussed on keeping out African Swine Fever as is spreads across the globe, it's a timely reminder that it only takes one reckless producer to put the entire industry at risk."

"More critically, if foot and mouth disease was to get into the country, it would be catastrophic for Australia's broader livestock production system with an estimated economic cost of $50 billion over 10 years."

Both convicted men expressed remorse for their actions.

The Denmark board members who headed up the scheme are outside Australia's jurisdiction and have not been charged.

Laue's family plans to return to Denmark this month, with him to follow when he is released from jail.

Soerensen has an Australian wife and three young children based in WA.