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Monday, 10 August 2015
Page: 7852

Food Labelling

(Question No. 762)


Mr Kelvin Thomson asked the Minister for Agriculture, in writing, on 12 May 2015:

(1) What measures and actions are he considering and investigating in respect of strengthening Australia's food labelling and food monitoring measures following the outbreak of Hepatitis A linked with the importation of frozen berries.

(2) Will he review Australia's food labelling standards in the context of providing consumers with easily visible and informative information on which products are (a) imported from overseas, and (b) wholly grown and produced in Australia.

(3) Does he accept that Australia has some of the highest food safety and environmental standards in the world, and that the Government should be encouraging local farmers and food manufacturing processors to work together to supply the domestic market.

(4) Why does Australia import food, at the expense of local industry and jobs, from nations which have lower environmental and food health standards than Australia.


Mr Joyce: The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) What measures and actions are he considering and investigating in respect of strengthening Australia's food labelling and food monitoring measures following the outbreak of Hepatitis A linked with the importation of frozen berries

The Department of Agriculture has implemented new testing for imported ready-to-eat berries from any country. The inspection rate remains at five per cent of consignments, as per the risk advice of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand(FSANZ) that it is low risk to human health when produced under good agricultural and hygiene conditions. Samples are now tested for the presence of E. coli as an indicator of processing hygiene

Additionally, importers must review their supply chains to ensure there are satisfactory through chain controls for hazards such as foodborne viruses.

The Department has also recently introduced a new agricultural chemical residues screen for imported fruit and vegetables which consists of 108 chemicals. This will also apply to imported ready-to-eat berries.

On 19 May 2015, Food Standards Australia New Zealand published the finalised risk advice relating to ready-to-eat berries. This advice noted that when berries are farmed and handled appropriately during packaging there is very little risk of Hepatitis A virus being introduced.

In response, the Department issued an Imported Food Notice (IFN) on the same day, alerting importers to the requirement for them to ensure that their supply chain(s) for berries have effective control strategies in place to manage the risk of microbiological contamination. The IFN also confirmed that imported ready-to-eat berries would continue to be tested for E. coli at the surveillance food rate.

Separately, the Department is considering whether reforms are required to improve how the Department administers the Imported Food Control Act to ensure appropriate and timely responses continue to occur for future incidents.

(2) Will he review Australia's food labelling standards in the context of providing consumers with easily visible and informative information on which products are (a) imported from overseas, and (b) wholly grown and produced in Australia.

On 26 February 2015, the Prime Minister announced that the Commonwealth is committed to reforming country of origin labelling (CoOL).

Ministers have been tasked with bringing forward options to enhance Australia's CoOL framework to provide consumers with clearer information to make informed choices about the origin of the food they buy.

The Commonwealth is undertaking consultation with consumers, industry stakeholders and states and territories in metropolitan and regional centres to develop a framework that meets the needs of consumers, without imposing unnecessary costs on businesses.

The government will be considering this issue further in August 2015, and any proposed enhancements to Australia's framework would also consider the impact on Australia's international trade obligations.

(a) Under the AustraliaNew Zealand Food Standards Code, all food sold in Australia must adhere to Australia's country of origin labelling requirements, which apply equally to domestically produced and imported food. Country of origin requirements apply to all packaged food and unpackaged fresh or processed fruit, vegetables, seafood, pork, beef, lamb and chicken meat.

(b) I have stated my preference for a country of origin label to show the Australian content of ingredients in a product and that this label should be mandatory, diagrammatic, proportionate and simple to understand.

(3) Does he accept that Australia has some of the highest food safety and environmental standards in the world, and that the Government should be encouraging local farmers and food manufacturing processors to work together to supply the domestic market.

I am proud of the fact that Australia has some of the highest food safety and environmental standards in the world. This government is strongly committed to a vibrant, innovative and competitive food sector that allows farmers to link with food processors to supply the domestic and international markets as well as achieving better returns for farmers at the farm gate.

One of the initiatives to encourage greater collaboration between farmers and processors is the establishment of a Food and Agribusiness Industry Growth Centre. This is being established under the Australian Government's $188.5 million Industry Growth Centres initiative to boost Australian industry's competitiveness and productivity in five key growth sectors, including agriculture.

The Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre will make business easier in the food and agriculture sector by reducing regulatory burden, getting new ideas into the market, improving workforce skills and improving access to international markets and global supply chains.

Projects that the Food and Agribusiness Industry Growth Centre may be involved in include providing assistance with developing desired product characteristics, advice on intellectual property, marketing and country specific exporting intelligence and/or working with regulators to improve the efficiency of the regulatory framework while maintaining Australia's reputation for food safety.

(4) Why does Australia import food, at the expense of local industry and jobs, from nations which have lower environmental and food health standards than Australia.

The Australian Government supports two-way trade and choices for Australian consumers. Australia must be prepared to accept imports from other countries in order for other countries to accept our exports. Imports provide Australian consumers with benefits including access to a range of competitively-priced products and counter-seasonal produce. Fresh fruit and vegetables are imported mainly to cover seasonal shortfalls in local production or decreased production volumes due to climatic events such as cyclones or drought.

Any move to stop imports, particularly as an exporting nation, would risk retaliation by trading partners, with negative impacts on our farmers and the broader economy. The government is committed to maintaining Australia's high biosecurity standards, including managing any biosecurity risks from imported foods.

All food sold in Australia, whether produced domestically or imported, must comply with the safety requirements of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. All imported food must first meet biosecurity requirements, to prevent the incursion of foreign pests and disease, prior meeting the requirements of the Imported Food Control Act 1992.