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TAS Country : February 17th 2011
16 Tasmanian Country Friday, February 18, 2011 Opinion Behind the label fable PROMOTION: Brand Tasmania executive director Robert Heazlewood urges Tasmanians to buy Birds Eye peas, which are mainly locally grown. CHEWS theFAT David Byard LAST week on shopping duties at the supermarket with my my wife, we decided we wanted to buy Tasmanian/Australian frozen peas, beans ect. This is a difficult task. Firstly you need gloves if you are going to rummage around the frozen food section and, second, you need good reading glasses or a magnifying glass to find the country of origin. On close inspection China, New Zealand, Holland, Belgium, Germany, and Great Britain featured with great monotony. There is nothing wrong with competition, however it is not really fair nor does it allow the consumer to make an informed decision if you have to fossick around in sub-zero temperatures trying to find a packet of frozen vegetables that comes from Australia. On another note, China for one is an ever- increasing exporter of food to Australian consumers. To me this raises concerns about food safety and the capacity of our local farmers to compete. It is hardly a level playing field. Do we know if these Chinese imports are treated with chemicals that are banned in Australia, are they grown using sewerage as fertiliser, would they meet Australian farming standards? Then there are the wages and conditions. Is it short-term gain for long-term pain? Perhaps we may come to realise that as a society we need a functional viable rural sector, that amoung other things competes on a level playing field. Authorities rejected 10 lots of Chinese food in October 2010 alone. Records of rejection by the Australian Quarantine service reveal chemicals were found in peanuts. Chromium was found in hot chocolate, calcium was found in coffee beans, banned food additives were found in lettuce leaves, salmonella was found in sesame seeds, bacteria in bean curd and ecoli bacteria in clams. This in one month. I wonder what slipped through. Last July, China had nine breaches including banned preservatives and bacteria. Fresh produce from China requires a standard pesticide check for 49 chemicals. However, only Samples from 5 per cent of containers are tested. Quarantine's testing is regularly outsourced to Chinese companies; Senator Barnaby Joyce questions the wisdom of out-sourcing. He believes that there could be pressure bought to bear on oversees laboratories to change the results in favour of the country of origin. China has a history of food safety problems. For example, baby formula had melamine added to it, six infants actually died and 3000 were hospitalised. In the US dogs and cats died after eating Chinese pet food containing melamine and this product was also fed to fish and chickens. The US has much stricter standards and checks more imports than Australia does. Although I couldn't gain figures on how much food was rejected by the US, one report stated that the most common reason for rejection was filth, unsafe additives, inadequate labelling and potentially harmful chemicals and drugs. This is scary stuff not only to the farmers but also to the consumer. With minumul testing in Australia, it looks like food from China is a lucky dip. Overall imports of vegetables from China have risen sharply over the past five years. They have increased from $54 million in 2005-2006 to $96 million in 2009-2010. Fresh vegetable imports increased from $13 million to $18 million between July, 2008, and June, 2010. What's even more alarming is evidence from New Zealand that many Chinese products are being imported into Australia via that country to mask their origin. One producer in New Zealand suggested that, when one of our processors in Tasmania relocated to New Zealand, farmers there expected to get extra contracts for their vegies. This has not eventuated and vegies coming in from China are being repacked as a local product. Garlic is a good case study. When it first started to come into Australia it was sold at one quarter of the price. But when local garlic producers were killed off the overseas price also rose. I would think that is predatory pricing, that does three things: blocks out local production, increases the price of garlic, and disallows any consumer choice. When the carbon pollution schemes come in this will add another expense to Australian producers which, of course, the Chinese producers will not have to contribute to. In Australia we are left with one vegetable processor whose future is not assured. This processor employs Tasmanians and contracts Tasmanians to grow the vegies. What can we do? One of the answers may be that we try to create a level playing field. This I know is difficult and the last thing we want is to be seen as setting up unrealistic trade barriers. The questions need to be asked: how would oversees interests cope with the wage and employment conditions that we as Australians enjoy? How would overseas interests cope with the same sort of QA standards that Australian producers have to bear? Will we starve our farmers off the land before our governments realise what a massive problem they have created. Surely food security is more necessary to a society than a lot of other things that we fund. Cheats wear label of shame Labelling imported food as Australian is up there with the most un- Australian things you can do.' Steve Whan THE NSW Food Authority named and shamed 1697 businesses for failing to comply with safety and labelling regulations last financial year. NSW Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan warned food retailers not to mislead consumers and to ensure food was labelled with its country of origin. ''Labelling imported food as Australian is up there with the most un- Australian things you can do,'' Mr Whan said. He said the authority was recently made aware of breaches in relation to the country-of-origin labelling of unpackaged fresh produce. ''The maximum penalty for this offence is $55,000 for an individual and $275,000 for a corporation, which is a reflection of how seriously this Government views the matter of misleading labelling, particularly when it comes to country of origin,'' he said. The NSW Food Authority was established in 2004 as Australia's first single agency with total responsibility for food safety and compliance, with 50 field officers and 10 in a specialist enforcement team. Compliance investigation and enforcement branch executive director Peter Day said the specialist team was responsible for enforcing country-of- origin labelling. ''They are the front-line officers of the agency,'' Mr Day said. ''Any breaches are dealt with in accordance with the authority's compliance and enforcement policy, which provides for a graduated level of action. ''Generally most first-time minor breaches are dealt with by warning letter or a penalty notice [one-the-spot fine], depending on the issues found. ''More serious matters are dealt with by court prosecution.'' Mr Day said the authority took complaints from consumers, which totalled 1221 last year, and worked with farmers and seafood-industry groups to identify issues of concern. The Weekly Times
February 10th 2011
February 24th 2011