Australian airport quarantine officers defy eggs

Under Australia's tough quarantine system, airline passengers are banned from bringing duck giblets and necks, mooncakes and hard-boiled eggs into the country and yet they were all found Thursday in passengers' luggage.

Australia, which already has some the world's strictest quarantine checks, has steadily beefed up its scrutiny of incoming travelers since the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus first emerged in 2003.

And it's paying dividends. The closest Australia has come to a bird flu scare were a few pigeons imported from Canada which were found to be carrying bird flu antibodies while they were being held in a quarantine facility.

Early Thursday morning, in just 90 minutes of checks, quarantine officials seized a packet of cooked duck giblets from a couple arriving from Hong Kong, and an egg-filled pastry, or mooncake, from another passenger on the same flight.

A plastic bag filled with cooked duck necks was also seized, and an elderly couple from Canada was forced to hand over half a dozen hard-boiled eggs.

All of the passengers had declared their food items to quarantine officials in line with Australian law, but seemed genuinely unaware that they posed a risk for spreading bird-related diseases such as H5N1.

Passengers weary from the long flight to Australia have to traipse past several bins set up for them to dump banned food and make it past beagles trained to detect food before they even reach the quarantine checks.

With fears of bird flu growing daily, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service now screens every single airline passenger arriving from any of 11 countries deemed a "high risk" for bird flu, according to Edwina Durnford, the AQIS manager at Sydney Airport, which handles half of all international flights arriving in Australia.

In addition to X-raying or hand-checking the luggage of all passengers from high risk countries, AQIS has also posted large signs around Australian airports urging travelers to declare their goods.

People who break quarantine laws can face on-the-spot fines of €138, and penalties of more than €37,720 or 10 years' imprisonment for serious breaches, the AP reports.