China’s agricultural soil contaminated with toxic metals, AUSVEG

Peak industry body for potato and vegetable growers, AUSVEG is calling for further strengthening of Australia’s country of origin labelling laws after fresh reports have shown that almost 20 percent of China’s agricultural land is contaminated with heavy toxic metals, which can be carcinogenic and cause kidney damage.

Recent data released from the Communist Party of China has indicated that 19.4 percent, or around 1.05 million square kilometres of China’s agricultural land is contaminated with an array of toxic metals including cadmium, nickel and arsenic.

AUSVEG spokesperson, Hugh Gurney said that the findings are ‘mortifying’ especially considering that China is the second highest source of vegetable imports to Australia.

“In 2012-13, it was estimated that approximately $110 million worth of vegetables were imported to Australia from China, however, it’s highly likely that the amount of potentially harmful Chinese produce reaching Australian dinner plates is much higher than official figures suggest,” said Gurney.

“Under current trade agreements with China, New Zealand may import processed vegetables from China, repackage them as ‘Made in New Zealand from local and imported ingredients’, and ship the product to Australia for consumption.”

“…The risk associated with the consumption of Chinese produce is now indisputable. We should not allow inadequate Country of Origin Labelling requirements continue to put the health of Australian consumers at risk,” he said.

The House of Representatives Agriculture and Industry Committee recently announced that it will be conducting an inquiry into country-of-origin labelling for food. The inquiry has been referred by the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce MP, and Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane MP.

The terms of reference for the inquiry:

  • Whether the current Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL for food) system provides enough information for Australian consumers to make informed purchasing decisions
  • Whether Australia's CoOL laws are being complied with and what, if any, are the practical limitations to compliance
  • Whether improvements could be made, including to simplify the current system and/or reduce the compliance burden
  • Whether Australia's CoOL laws are being circumvented by staging imports through third countries
  • The impact on Australia's international trade obligations of any proposed changes to Australia's CoOL laws.

Gurney says that AUSVEG has welcomed the inquiry, stating that it is paramount that Australian consumers are able to easily identify foreign produce.

“Australian growers follow the strictest environmental and on-farm protocols to produce some of the world’s safest vegetables. It would be shameful to continue to let ineffective Country of Origin Labelling legislation impede Australian consumers from making well-informed choices at the supermarket,” he said.



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