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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1778

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (13:23): I rise to support this motion and strongly endorse the remarks made in relation to it by the members for Fremantle and Makin. This motion follows revelations that certain brands of imported frozen berries grown or packaged in China are suspected of having infected Australians with hepatitis A. All Australians should feel that when they go to their local supermarket the products being sold there are safe and healthy and suitable for consumption. It is apparent to me that imported food currently has an unfair advantage compared with Australian food producers when it comes to food testing and analysis. I have been advised by Ausveg that Australian growers must first subscribe to be a member of a food safety scheme. They are then required to undertake annual audits and regular testing for microbiological issues and chemical residues for at least 100 active ingredients and chemical anolytes. However, only five percent of imports are tested at the border—for only 49 chemical residues, as well as for food-labelling issues.

It seems to me that if Australian farmers and food producers are required to meet high food safety standards and are to be subject to extensive testing, as they should be, then imported products should have to meet those same criteria before they are stacked on our supermarket shelves. Australian fruit and vegetable growers have said that the failure to test imported berries for hepatitis A and other pathogens, despite outbreaks in recent years across Europe and the United States linked to imported frozen berry products, was absolutely astounding. The deputy chief executive of AUSVEG, Andrew White, stated:

The system is completely inadequate and needs to be reviewed. Growers are concerned there isn't a level playing field when it comes to imports versus the requirements and quality assurance processes that growers in Australia have to comply with.

Mr White said that lack of testing of imported products was also a problem. He said:

We also think the import testing arrangements need to be reviewed. They are not even testing for microbiological threats. The government has acknowledged this and they are looking to review it, and we support that.

I move now to food-labelling issues. I support this motion's intention to improve food-labelling standards to help better inform Australian consumers about where products come from and to encourage consumers to buy Australian made food. Current food-labelling arrangements are weak and confusing. There has been a concern about lack of transparency in labelling laws, about the meaning of the terms 'product of Australia' and 'made in Australia' and how they fit with the 'Made in Australia' and 'Australian Made' logos. The current situation is confusing for consumers. We see qualified claims which state that food is made in Australia 'from a combination of local and imported ingredients'. Again, as the deputy chief executive of AUSVEG, Andrew White, said, the cost of changes to packaging is negligible. He said:

… packaging can be changed very easily. It is not a hard thing to do and it is not costly

I also want to note the issue of globalisation—the impact of free trade policies and free trade agreements on our ability to protect ourselves in relation to health and phytosanitary issues. The fact is that free trade fundamentalists have left us vulnerable and exposed, not only in terms of economic issues but in terms of health standards—a point made recently by Michael Moore of the Public Health Association in the context of the Australia-Pacific free trade deal. He said that this was an issue of potentially great concern.

Finally, I want to support the remarks made by Tom Elliott on Saturday, 28 February, in the Herald Sun. He said:

Not that long ago Australians understood that fruit and veg had seasons outside which consumption wasn’t possible. In summer we ate apricots, bananas and grapes. By contrast, during winter we turned to apples, pears and mandarins. But since the development of cheap refrigeration and rapid shipping, our eating habits have changed.

If we are going to improve the situation we find ourselves in now, he said, we should accept that not every fruit we enjoy can be obtained year round, that we should try to dine as our forebears did—sparingly and of food which is in season—and that we should not be buying stuff grown outside of Australia. We should be checking the labels. Our farmers do their best to conform to extraordinarily high standards of food safety and we should support them in that matter.