Australian wines the toast of China trade shows

Two NSW wines are generating huge interest from wholesale buyers at trade shows held in Eastern China.

NSW Business Chamber representatives recently showcased Australian products at a series of trade shows in Zhejiang Province, south of Shanghai, including at the Hangzhou Wine Fair, as part of their Export Growth China program.

 “Drayton’s Family Wines and Brothers in Arms Vineyard were the toast of the Hangzhou Wine Fair. The event had more than 200 wholesale buyers in attendance, and generated 20 firm sales leads which will now be followed up by our specialist trade advisors in Shanghai to ensure these businesses are matched with the right buyers for the best chance at success,” said NSW Business Chamber General Manager, Paula Martin.

“NSW Business Chamber has opened a custom-designed showroom in the heart of Shanghai’s international trading district, which we are currently filling with Australian products, including samples from top Australian winemakers.

“Although the showroom will be officially launched in August, our staff on the ground in China are already proactively marketing these products to wholesale buyers and providing real-time feedback on potential sales leads,” Martin said.

John Drayton of Drayton’s Family Wines said the company joined the Export Growth China program to learn about the market in China and gain greater awareness and exposure of Drayton’s brand products in the Chinese market.

“Drayton’s Family Wines have been exporting to China for over 10 years.  During this time we have been only supplying “buyers own brand” to Chinese buyers as they approach us, however we have now made a conscious decision to attempt to supply our Drayton brand products. 

“We feel that the overall Chinese market is still in the early days of maturity and the potential is huge to not only supply softer full bodied red wines but from experienced gained from the Chinese tourist that visit our winery in the Hunter Valley fruiter soft white wines could become popular in the Chinese market. 

“From such hands on cellar experience that our staff are experiencing here in Australia we feel that it is only a matter of time before the market in China starts to accept such softer fruiter style white wines that would go very well with Chinese food.

 

$21 mill of cocaine delivered to ALDI in banana boxes

In Berlin, over $21 million worth of cocaine has been found in boxes of bananas delivered to ALDI supermarkets, police say.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, staff working at 14 of the discount supermarkets in and around Berlin reported the stashes of narcotics tucked in the produce deliveries from Colombia, which police believe ended up at the stores by accident on Monday.

"Apparently there was a logistical mistake somewhere along the line," police spokesman Stefan Redlich told AFP, adding that investigators were now trying to determine their intended destination.

He said the 386kg shipment was the biggest single cocaine find in the history of the German capital.

But it’s not the first time. In January, over $7 million worth of cocaine was discovered by staff, wrapped up between bananas as they unpacked the fruit.

 

NSW Business Chamber simplifies export

The NSW Business Chamber is helping Australian SMEs break into the Chinese export market with its Export Growth China program.

A number of food manufacturers have already signed up to the program, from the Byron Bay Cookie Company and Rinoldi Pasta, to less known but still very successful businesses like AusChamp which manufactures high end tea, and Antonniou Fillo which manufactures filo pastry.

The Chamber has established a custom-designed warehouse in the heart of Shanghai’s international trading district. For a fee, the Chamber displays products and services from Australian SMEs and actively matches them with Chinese wholesale buyers, including helping them negotiate a trade agreement.

As part of the Export Growth China program, the Chamber offers a diagnostic tool – the Export Readiness Report – which helps uncover areas for improvement and identifies potential roadblocks which may hamper export success in China.

“NSW Business Chamber launched the Export Growth China program to reduce the risks and costs associated with exporting goods to China, and provide expert assistance to business owners who are ready to back the strength of their product internationally, but don’t know where to start,” said NSW Business Chamber General Manager, Paula Martin.

“We provide businesses with a low-cost entry point and essentially ‘hold their hand’ through the entire process; from determining whether they’re ready to export right through to facilitating trade agreements with Chinese wholesale buyers. 

“We have already had a fantastic response from businesses across NSW and are currently filling our custom designed showroom in Shanghai’s international trading district with Australian products ready to be sold to Chinese wholesale buyers.

“Our staff on the ground in China will be proactively matching businesses with wholesale buyers and providing real-time feedback on how their products can be tailored to the Chinese market to ensure these hard-working Australian business owners have the best possible chance of success.

China has emerged as the world’s largest market for food and beverage and NSW Business Chamber’s market research suggests the following food products are most in demand in China:

  • Seafood (particularly saltwater shell fish such as oysters, crabs and
  • Live/frozen lobster and abalone)
  • Baby formula and baby food
  • Biscuits
  • Honey e.g. Manuka 500ml
  • Olive Oil & Macadamia Oil
  • Beef & Sheep meat from 72 Australian abattoirs approved by China
  • Cheese, spreads, butter
  • Milk powders, UHT and pasteurised milk
  • Confectionery and snack products e.g. Chocolates

According to a trade report recently released by The Australian China Business Council, Export of agricultural and food products from Australia to China have risen dramatically since 2009. 

Chinese demand for premium and high quality Australian food products, such as beef and other meat, has increased dramatically in the last two years. In 2013, Australian exports in beef to China increased nearly four times, oil seeds five times, and meat exports doubled year-on-year. Plans drawn up by China’s National Development and Reform Commission up to 2020 envisage strong growth in beef and lamb imports to cope with rising demand.

The export market for Australian dairy products is also set for strong growth. China is Australia’s top dairy export market with exports to Greater China (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan) increasing 40 percent in 2013 to 2.1 million tonnes.

Demand for Australian processed food is likely to increase as Chinese disposable income levels approach those in Japan and Korea.

Western Sydney company, Nova Spring Water, has already been through the export readiness assessment and their bottled spring water is currently being shipped to the Business Chamber’s Shanghai showroom.

Nova Spring Water founder Nitin Lotliker said the business is excited to be part of the Export Growth China program.

“Nova Spring Water really is unique; we make and fill environmentally safe bottles with clean, healthy, natural spring water and we are really excited about displaying our bottled water in China and the opportunity to grow our business overseas. 

“Export Growth China has taken the stress out of the export process, and we’re really looking forward to working with the NSW Business Chamber team on the ground in Shanghai to find out what Chinese wholesale buyers think of our product,” Lotliker said.

 

Revision of ISO 22000 on food safety management underway

New food safety requirements and gaps in the current version have prompted a revision of ISO 22000.

Since the first publication of ISO 22000 on food safety management in 2005, players in the food chain, including manufacturers, consumers and governments, have been facing new food safety requirements – spurring a need for the standard to be revised.

A consultation held last year among users of the standard brought up gaps in the current version.

Certain terms were found to be potentially confusing: unnecessary repetition was revealed and some concepts needed clarifying. Moreover, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were not sufficiently integrated and the understanding of risk evaluation still needed to be improved. These various points raised by users will contribute to the revision process.

Based on this feedback, the revision group will tackle the following issues:

  • Clarify certain key concepts, especially critical control points required to be managed, operational programmes needed, approach to risks, product withdrawal and recall, and a combination of external control measures
  • Update terms and definitions
  • Make the standard simpler and more concise
  • Avoid making the content too prescriptive
  • Ensure a greater coverage of SMEs

ISO 22000 will have the same format as other management systems standards (MSSs), which will now follow an identical structure with common texts, terms and definitions. This will make life easier for companies wanting to be certified to several MSSs, such as ISO 9001 and ISO 22000. The coordinated format will ensure coherence between the standards, simplify their integrated use and facilitate their reading and understanding by users.

While food industry experts may be especially involved in this revision, other users of the standard will be specifically targeted as necessary.

Many companies and organizations do not use ISO 22000 on its own, but in conjunction with quality management standard ISO 9001, hence the desire to align the two standards and ensure their coherence.

Furthermore, the ISO/TS 22002 family supports specific sectors and enables them to implement ISO 22000 by providing tools to develop the prerequisite programmes necessary.

The revision group will meet again in mid-October to deliver a second version, currently called working document. If all goes according to plan, the standard is expected to be published in 2017.

 

2015 wine vintage research underway at DAFWA

The capacity of the Department of Agriculture and Food’s winemaking laboratory has been enhanced to facilitate new and increased winemaking research activities.

The wine laboratory at the department’s Bunbury office has been boosted with a new 80kg capacity press.

Department viticulture research officer Richard Fennessy said arrival of the new equipment was timely and provided significant processing efficiencies for the winemaking component of viticulture research activities.

“The department is contributing to two national research projects that require us to make 38 batches of wine from 1 600kg of fruit,” Fennessy said.

“Batch sizes range from 15kg to 50kg. Prior to the arrival of the new press we processed all grapes using a 15kg capacity press. It suited small volumes of fruit but caused bottlenecks when processing larger volumes.

“The new press will reduce the time it takes to process batches larger than 20kg, and increase productivity in the laboratory.”

Grape pressing is expected to be completed by about mid-April.

The department’s wine research activities contribute to nationwide projects on the genomic basis of clonal variation in Cabernet Sauvignon wine grapes and assessing clonal variability in Chardonnay and Shiraz for future climate change.

Fennessy said the viticulture team was also making wine for a new project examining the impact of different crop loads on Tempranillo wine quality from fruit grown in Margaret River.

Tempranillo is a Spanish red wine grape variety gaining popularity in Western Australia.

“The aim of the Tempranillo project is to determine whether cropping at 4t/ha, 6t/ha and 10t/ha influences wine character and quality,” he said.

“This project requires just 90kg of fruit to make into wine which, compared to our other projects, is hoped to make for an easy squeeze.”

The one-year Tempranillo project is funded from the Australian Grape and Wine Authority regional program co-ordinated by Wines of WA.

The department is making the wines in collaboration with a viticulture consultancy which is managing the project for Wines of WA.

All wines produced from the department’s 2015 vintage will undergo chemical and sensory analysis by industry experts.

Bottling is expected to occur in August and sensory assessments in November or December to allow the wine time to rest in the bottle before tasting.

Findings from all research will be shared at industry workshops.

 

Victorian Minister Adem Somyurek to open AUSPACK 2015

Adem Somyurek, Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade, State Government Victoria, will formally open AUSPACK 2015.

According to Luke Kasprzak, Portfolio Director – Industrial Division, Exhibition and Trade Fairs, “As this is the APPMA’s 30th Anniversary AUSPACK we are very pleased that the Adem Somyurek will be officially opening Australia’s premier packaging and processing trade exhibition which will showcase innovative solutions from across the globe.

“Minister Somyurek will have the opportunity to walk the show floor and meet some of the 315 exhibitors – including 80 internationals and 67 APPMA Member companies – who represent over 1200 brands and will be showcasing new and innovative processing and packaging machinery.

“Having the Minister open AUSPACK is a wonderful opportunity for our exhibitors and visitors to see how the event is recognised for the significant role it plays in the industry.” Kasprzak said.

AUSPACK is owned and presented by the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA), Australia’s only national packaging and processing machinery organisation.

 

Pressure grows for reallocation of $16 mill Cadbury grant

Tasmanian politicians are putting pressure on the Federal government to decide how to spend a $16 million grant promised for the Cadbury chocolate factory in Hobart.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott allocated the money during the 2013 federal election campaign to develop a new visitor centre, allowing Cadbury's popular factory tours to resume, ABC News reports.

Last week the chocolate-maker declined the funding because it could not commit to a 20 per cent increase in exports required by the Government as a condition of the grant.

Federal Employment Minister and Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz could not guarantee the money would be reallocated during this term of government.

"I would hope that this money could be allocated before the next election because it is important that we keep building on the recovery that is clearly place in Tasmania now," he said.

Premier Will Hodgman said he wanted a fast decision.

"We want to see it having maximum impact," he said.

"We look forward to the Federal Government commencing its process and concluding it at the earliest opportunity."

Tasmanian Labor Senator Lisa Singh said the Government was wasting time.

"There is absolutely no reason why this Abbott Government should be sitting on its hands any longer," she said.

"I think Tasmanians have waited long enough, it's been 18 months now."

Tourism Industry Council spokesman Luke Martin said a quick but smart investment was needed.

"What we need to avoid is a politically-driven direction of funding," he said.

 

Government to make a move on country-of-origin labelling

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called upon Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to prepare a submission for cabinet by the end of March.

According to Fairfax Media, Tony Abbott said “For too long, people have been talking about country of origin labelling. And nothing much has changed.”

"Plainly, whenever we have a problem with imported food in particular, people want to know more about where their food, where their products are coming from."

The move comes after CHOICE renewed calls for tougher country of origin labelling rules after 18 people tested positive for hepatitis A after eating frozen Patties berries that were believe to be contaminated.

Independent Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, has also called for an urgent independent review of Australia’s imported food safety regime.

Macfarlane said on Thursday that current labels were confusing and left consumers uncertain about where their food came from.

He said changes would likely result in new graphics on food labels, such as a pie chart or symbols indicating what proportion of a product was from Australia.

Nanna's Mixed Berries have been epidemiologically linked with the outbreak, but the source of the virus remains unconfirmed.

 

100 percent screening for frozen berries from China

100 percent screening will apply to frozen berries from factories in China linked to the Australian Hepatitis A incident, which have been held pending further testing.

The testing, announced by Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, and Assistant Minister for Health, Fiona Nash will include testing for Hepatitis A indicators.

All frozen berries from the facilities in question were immediately held as soon as the Hepatitis A issue came to light. In addition, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has provided interim advice upgrading the suspect frozen berries to “medium risk” following a request by the Department of Agriculture last week to review the risk status. Berries from these facilities are subject to 100 per cent testing at the border.

A recall to pull the stock off the shelves was also issued immediately upon news of the Hepatitis A issue, and the Department of Health’s National Incident Room was also activated in Canberra to manage the matter. Comprehensive testing of the berry product in question is being carried out with early results due this week.

Australian officials from the Department of Agriculture are on the ground working with the Chinese authorities on this matter. The Department of Agriculture has also sought information on supply chains from all importers of frozen berries from China.

The Chinese Government has carried out initial inspections of the packing facility implicated in the outbreak and has taken swabs for microbiological testing.

Additionally, and as part of the Department of Agriculture’s request, FSANZ will continue its broader and rigorous scientific assessment of the risk status of frozen berries from around the globe. The assessment is expected to take some weeks.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has advised that an estimated 1 per cent infection rate for people eating these berries is a very conservative upper limit which could be revised downwards as experts continue to examine all the data. In addition previous outbreaks of hepatitis A have shown that around 30 per cent of adults infected may not show symptoms at all and this is higher in children.

After careful assessment, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service has now advised that people who have eaten the berries can continue to give blood so long as they are not sick.

No person has ever contracted Hepatitis A from a blood transfusion in Australia.

Nanna's Mixed Berries have been epidemiologically linked with the outbreak, but the source of the virus remains unconfirmed.

 

Mike Baird plans to introduce reverse vending machines

NSW Premier Mike Baird has announced if re-elected, he will introduce reverse vending machines across the state as part of a container deposit scheme for the recycling of drink containers.

Under the Baird Government’s preferred model, consumers, or a charity of their choice, would receive a small financial reward for depositing a drink container in a reverse vending machine.

“We estimate that at least 800 reverse vending machines will be installed across NSW – offering communities the opportunity to be rewarded for contributing to positive environmental outcomes in the places where they are most needed,” Baird said

Environment minister Rob Stokes said the government has decided that a state-based scheme, using reverse vending machines and targeting containers that are predominantly consumed away-from-home, will be both cost efficient and effective.

“Beverage containers currently account for one in every three pieces of litter, polluting our beaches, parks and waterways,” Stokes said.

“Our container deposit scheme will complement, rather than compete with, our existing kerbside recycling system and help the government achievement our ambitious litter reduction and recycling targets.

“Over the next 12 months we will consult with the community and industry on how we will implement a scheme, which will be underpinned by a comprehensive cost benefit analysis.

“The final design of the container deposit scheme will be announced in 2016, and will include the use of reverse vending machines and an incentive for the community to participate.”

The consultation with the community and industry will focus on:

  • The location of reverse vending machines;
  • The incentive for community participation;
  • The scope of containers to be redeemable under the scheme; and
  • The involvement of local government and the recycling industry in the scheme.

 

Nanna’s Mixed Berries epidemiologically linked with the outbreak

Nanna's Mixed Berries have been epidemiologically linked with the outbreak, but the source of the virus remains unconfirmed.

There are 18 confirmed cases of Hepatitis A where the berries are the only common exposure.

Most people who contract Hepatitis A will recover with rest and fluids although it may cause severe illness in older people, those with chronic liver disease and those who are immunosuppressed.

Hepatitis A is spread via food and water, including ice that is contaminated with faecal matter from infected people. Practicing good hand hygiene and avoiding food preparation while ill are the most important factors in preventing further cases.

The products which have been recalled are:

  • Nanna's Mixed Berries 1kg pack
  • Nanna's Raspberries 1kg pack
  • Creative Gourmet's Mixed Berries 300g pack
  • Creative Gourmet's Mixed Berries 500g pack

Only the Nanna's Mixed Berries product has been epidemiologically linked with the outbreak. The other products have been recalled as a precaution.

The Department of Agriculture has confirmed that 100 percent of Patties berries from the processing facility associated with the recent hepatitis A outbreak are being held pending testing.

The Department of Agriculture has received advice that the Chinese Government have carried out initial inspections of the packing facility implicated in the recent outbreaks of Hepatitis A and have taken swabs at the facility for microbiological testing, after seeking assurances about the safety of further shipments of frozen berries.

The Department of Agriculture has carried out a comprehensive interrogation of Australia's main system for managing imports, the Integrated Cargo System (ICS), to better understand the supply chains involved in the trade of frozen berries from China.

In addition, the Department of Agriculture has commenced a survey of all known importers of frozen berries from China to identify any supply chains that are not able to be identified through the interrogation of the ICS.

The Department of Agriculture has also formally requested a review of the risk status of frozen berries from Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).

Anyone who has eaten the recalled frozen berries and feels unwell should consult their GP.

The Hepatitis A scare has pushed up demand for fresh Australian berries.

The recall has renewed attention on clearer country-of-origin labelling, with Barnaby Joyce calling for a framework that is unambiguous and compulsory.

 

Barnaby Joyce calls for clearer country of origin labelling

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has called for a country of origin framework that is unambiguous and compulsory.

According to Perth Now, Joyce promised to introduce a new, simpler labelling system for consumers, which would clearly state the country where the produce was grown, although there would be no bans on imported frozen products.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Minister Joyce has spoken to the Prime Minister about making changes to Country of Origin Labelling and will be presenting a White Paper with proposed changes soon.

“This is a good first step and we look forward to seeing solutions in the upcoming White Paper." said CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey. "We now hope that any proposed country of origin system is more meaningful and clear for consumers,” 

Following the recall of frozen berries last week, Patties has increased its sample testing to 100 percent of all batches of imported frozen berries from all countries, not just China, for any microbial and viral markers such as HAV.

There is now 18 cases of hepatitis A linked to the recalled berries, but Patties said there is still no detailed viral analysis from accredited laboratories that proves any firm association of Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) with the recalled products.

CHOICE called on the Government to take action on country of origin labelling, launching a petition that resulted in over 17,000 petition signatures in just three days.

"This morning we released a new report showing almost half of the 55 frozen fruit and vegetable products we surveyed carried unclear or confusing origin statements."

CHOICE investigated the country of origin labelling on 55 packs of frozen mixed fruits and mixed vegetables and results show that 25 out of 55 products contain vague and unhelpful claims.

Some of the worst claims include "Packed in New Zealand", "Packed in Chile from imported and local ingredients" and "Processed in Belgium".

“These claims offer very little information about a product’s origin and are largely meaningless to consumers,” says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

Australia has recently experienced a growth in food imports. The value of frozen vegetable imports in 2013-14 moved up 12% to $256 million, and China – one of the countries associated with the latest food safety scare – remains our third largest source in this category.

 

Class action looms for Patties

A class action suit is looming for Patties, as Slater and Gordon encourage those who contracted Hepatitis A after eating the berries to come forward.

Slater and Gordon said the “nature of this contamination scare may also give rise to claims for compensation, and there are a number of legal issues to consider.”

The Australian Consumer Law regulates matters concerning the safety and quality of goods sold within Australia, and treats the local distributors of imported goods as though they were the manufacturers of their products. In this way, companies that sell consumer products in Australia, whether local or imported, can be held responsible for the quality of the goods they trade in.

Under The Australian Consumer Law, individuals who were injured as a result of a safety defect in goods have the right to claim compensation against the relevant manufacturer.

13 cases of Hepatitis A in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and WA have been linked to frozen raspberries imported from China and repackaged by Bairnsdale-based Patties Foods.

The law firm said it has been contacted by “a number of people” who are concerned about their health and legal rights.

The Department of Agriculture has formally requested a review of the risk status of frozen berries from FSANZ and is seeking assurances from China about the safety of further shipments of frozen berries.

Assistant Minister for health, Fiona Nash, said “Once FSANZ reports back to us with the information it is seeking from Chinese food authorities, we will be able to assess whether further steps need to be taken.

“If, upon consideration of all available information, the circumstances require a review of current arrangements or improvements to the system, we will act on this.”

Products included in the recall are: Nanna’s Raspberries 1kg, Nanna’s Mixed Berries 1kg and Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries 300g and 500g.

 

Standards Australia to update Organic and Biodynamic Products standards

Standards Australia is currently revising AS 6000 – 2009 Organic and Biodynamic Products to take into account updated requirements, methods and technology.

The objective of AS 6000 is to provide a framework for the organic industry covering production, preparation, transportation, labelling and marketing.

The Standard provides minimum requirements for products with labelling that states or implies they have been produced under organic or biodynamic systems.

The Standard aims to serve as a guide to farmers, producers and consumers and to harmonise national provisions for the production, identification and labelling of organically and biodynamically grown products.

The main changes in this revision are to update:

  • Requirements for the conversion of land into a production system for organic or biodynamic products;
  • Conditions for the use of synthetic amino acids;
  • Requirements for Livestock Housing and Range Management; and
  • General principles and requirements for Biodynamic Production.

Richard Souness, chairman of Technical Committee FT-032, Organic and Biodynamic Products, said, “The Australian Standard AS 6000 serves as a guide for industry, producers and consumers on all aspects of the organic and biodynamic industry, from production to labelling to marketing. It aims to protect consumers against deceptive and unsubstantiated product claims, and also protect organic producers against misinterpretation of other agricultural products as organic.”

“The Standard is now being revised to take into account updated requirements, methods and technology. We invite public comment on the proposed revision to AS 6000.”

In accordance with Standards Australia’s standards development process, the proposed draft of AS 6000 will be open for public comment from Tuesday, 17 February, 2015 to Tuesday, 21 April, 2015.

All draft Standards for public comment and instructions on how to comment are listed here.

 

Australia asks China if further berry shipments will be safe

The Department of Agriculture is seeking assurances from China about the safety of further shipments of frozen berries.

Consumption of Nanna’s brand frozen mixed berries has been linked to the 13 cases of Hepatitis A in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and WA as of Wednesday afternoon (18 February).

The department has engaged with authorities through the Australian embassy staff in Beijing and is tracing products in supply chains as part of working with importers to manage potential risks.

The department has formally requested a review of the risk status of frozen berries from FSANZ. The department will also consider the outcomes of incident investigations conducted by the state and territory food authorities.

FSANZ provides advice to the department on which imported foods are considered to pose a risk to human health. In the case of the frozen berries, the department is working to gather information to determine what further action might be taken.

Assistant Minister for health, Fiona Nash said “Once FSANZ reports back to us with the information it is seeking from Chinese food authorities, we will be able to assess whether further steps need to be taken.

“If, upon consideration of all available information, the circumstances require a review of current arrangements or improvements to the system, we will act on this.”

The Department of Agriculture’s Imported Food Inspection Scheme (IFIS) is a risk-based border inspection scheme.

Food items that pose a medium or high risk to human health are called ‘risk foods’ and are tested at rate of 100 per cent until a good compliance history is established with a particular importer—they are then tested at a rate of 25 percent of consignments, dropping to a minimum rate of 5 percent of consignments if good compliance continues. The inspection rates are established in legislation.

Risk foods are typically pre-prepared, ready-to-eat foods including certain cheeses, cooked meats and seafood, and cured meats.

All other foods are considered to be ‘surveillance foods’. Surveillance foods are randomly inspected at a rate of 5 per cent of all consignments. Samples for laboratory analysis (tests may include chemical residues, heavy metals or natural contaminants) may be taken as well as assessing compliance with packaging and labelling requirements.

Routine testing for viruses in food can be problematic. FSANZ advises that this is because the virus in contaminated food is usually present at extremely low levels where the pathogen cannot be detected by available analytical methods.

The department’s imported food inspection scheme is a risk-based inspection scheme, and the rates of inspection and classification of imported foods can change with new information to hand.

Other government actions regarding the Hepatitis outbreak include:

  • The Department of Health had set up the National Incident Room up in Canberra to deal with the issue and will remain active until this issue is resolved.
  • The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, consisting of all State and Territory Chief Health Officers and chaired by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, met Tuesday (17 February) to coordinate jurisdictional public responses.
  • The OzFoodNet and the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia are conducting an investigation into the issue.
  • The National Food Safety Network, chaired by FSANZ met yesterday and is seeking further information from Chinese food authorities.
  • The National Blood Authority and the Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS) are monitoring the situation closely and continue to take steps to protect the blood supply from the virus.
  • The Department of Agriculture formally requested a review of the risk advice from FSANZ about frozen berries, and will consider the outcomes from the incident investigations conducted by the state and territory food authorities.

The recall has prompted calls for stricter country-of-origin labelling.

Choice launched a petition calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, to take action on country-of-origin labelling.

“We are mobilising consumers to put pressure on the government to fix our country of origin labelling laws. The latest frozen food farce highlights how difficult it is under the current system for consumers to make informed choices in the supermarket,” says Choice spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

“Confused claims such as ‘Packed in Australia using imported fruit’ or ‘Made in Australia using local and imported ingredients’ offer very little information about a product’s origin and are largely meaningless to consumers. We deserve to know where our food comes from.”

"The petition has only been live for a few hours and already over 1600 consumers have signed up calling for the government to take action on country of origin food labelling," Godfrey said.

“We’ve had inquiry after inquiry on this issue. Year after year it rates as a top concern for Australian consumers. It’s time for action.

 “The best way to create labels for consumers is to test the language to find phrases that most people understand.  Consumer research must be undertaken before making any changes to the current labelling framework.”

“Consumers should be able to make informed decisions about the food they are purchasing and while country of origin labelling isn’t a proxy for food safety, the information is sought after by many shoppers,” Godfrey said.

 

Xenophon calls for a review of Australia’s imported food safety regime

Independent Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, has called for an urgent independent review of Australia’s imported food safety regime in the wake of the widening hepatitis-A outbreak linked to frozen berries from China.

In addition, Senator Xenophon will be moving for a parallel Senate inquiry into the issue, with the aim of an interim report being provided within a month.

Xenophon said the outbreak undermined the confidence Australians placed in the safety of the $13.9 billion in imported food each year (2014 – ABS).

“This is a serious and widening outbreak of illness apparently caused by basic hygiene failures in China. These berries were considered ‘low risk’ but failed the most basic of health checks – carrying a bacteria common in faecal matter. Our entire imported food surveillance and risk management system, conducted by the Department of Agriculture and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), must be independently reviewed so as to fix any systemic problems and clear the air,” Xenophon said.

“For example, the Government does not test for bacterial infections of foods, as part of its spot-checks of 5 per cent of low risk food imports. Our system is almost entirely reactive, in that it tests five per cent of food products as the enter the country. We should be looking at issuing permits to export to Australia, so that adequate sanitation and health checks can be carried out in advance.”

Senator Xenophon also said that the hepatitis-A outbreak strengthened the need for “unambiguous country-of-origin labelling laws. Currently you can call something ‘made in Australia’ so long as 51 per cent by value (including processing) was done in Australia – that’s nowhere near good enough for consumers to make an informed choice,” said Nick.

He said that a suitable independent review could run in parallel with a Senate inquiry by the Rural and Regional Affairs Committee, and he was preparing draft terms of reference.

“This is a red flag that none of us can ignore. I wrote today to Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce requesting an independent review, while a Senate Inquiry will take a wide-ranging look at the health risks associated with the multi-billion dollar imported food sector,” said Nick.

The Greens party and Nick Xenophon have renewed focus on country-of-origin labelling by reintroducing a food labelling Bill on Thursday (18 Feb), before the berry recall was issued.

In response to the recall, Australian-Made has issued a warning to check country-of-origin labelling while Choice called on the Federal Government to take action on stricter country-of-origin labelling.

Eight people have been confirmed to have contracted the virus after eating frozen mixed berries, including three cases in Victoria, two in NSW, and the three Queensland cases reported on Monday.

 

Food labelling bill reintroduced to parliament

The Greens party and Nick Xenophon have renewed focus on country-of-origin labelling by reintroducing a food labelling Bill.

Australian Made Campaign chief executive, Ian Harrison said “The current issue with imported frozen berries highlights the need for clearer country-of-origin labelling, as it appears consumers may have been confused about where they came from.”

The “frozen berry issue” refers to the recall of four products distributed by Patties Foods was triggered after people reportedly contracted Hepatitis A after eating Nanna’s Frozen Mixed Berries.

Australian-Made has issued a warning to check country-of-origin labelling while Choice called on the Federal Government to take action on stricter country-of-origin labelling.

Australian Made Campaign chief executive, Ian Harrison said “While we welcome the reintroduction of this Bill, the Government is yet to announce its decisions on the food labelling enquiry undertaken last year by the House of Representatives Senate Committee on Agriculture and Industry. It would make sense to complete that review before commencing yet another one,” Harrison said.

For a number of years the Australian Made Campaign has been calling for the regulations under Australian Consumer Law to fall into line with the more stringent rules for using the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo, thereby eradicating critical loopholes that currently exist.

“The Australian Made Campaign supports – and in fact originated – the proposal to draw up regulations to clarify the concept of ‘substantial transformation’ and to specify processes which, by themselves, do not satisfy this test,” Mr Harrison said.

“The proposal to label food in such a way that highlights significant ingredients – ‘Made in Australia from Australian milk’ for chocolate, for example – as long as all requirements for a ‘Made in Australia’ claim are met, makes good sense as well.

“We still cannot however support the Bill in its current form. We do not see the value in banning the claims ‘Australian Made’ or ‘Made in Australia’ for food products in favour of the equivalent terms ‘Australian Manufactured’ or ‘Manufactured in Australia’.”

Mr Harrison said that a continual point of confusion for consumers was the use of qualified claims such as ‘Made in Australia from imported and local ingredients’. The Australian Made Campaign opposes the use of qualified claims unless the product satisfies the full ‘Made in’ test.

“Australian consumers have the right to know where their food has been made and grown, and it is important that we strengthen country-of-origin labelling for the benefit of Australia’s farmers and manufacturers as well – it is a vital asset in these trade-exposed sectors.”

Choice has criticised the current system, saying the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industry missed an opportunity to simplify it.

Choice has called for the following changes:

  • ‘Product of Australia’ or “Australian produce” = significant ingredients and virtually all processing to be from the country claimed
  • ‘Manufactured in Australia’ = Relating solely to manufacturing
  • ‘Packaged in Australia’ = Relates solely to manufacturing
  • Consumer testing of any changes to ensure they are meaningful

Consumers with enquiries can call the Patties Consumer Hotline, 1800 650 069, between 7am and 9pm.

 

R&D tax incentive may be capped at $100 million

Changes to the research and development incentive have been passed in the Senate and which will return to the House of Representatives, in a move to improve the budget.

The Bill introduces a cap of $100 million on the amount of research and development expenditure that companies can claim as a tax offset under the research and development incentive.

For expenditure above $100 million, companies will be able to claim a tax offset at the company tax rate.

Fewer than 25 companies are expected to be affected by the new measure. The vast majority of companies claiming the research and development tax incentive will be unaffected.

The amendment will take effect from income years beginning on or after 1 July 2014, one year later than previously announced by the former government. This start date recognises the uncertainty facing companies following the considerable delay in legislating the original measure announced by the former government in February 2013.

The impact on the Budget from the delayed start date is a reduction in revenue of $300 million over the forward estimates.

The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) has said the changes are “harmful to Australia’s long-term prosperity.”

In a statement, Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said “Businesses will spend less on their own R&D and they will make less of a contribution to Australia's research infrastructure and research networks.

“We should be encouraging innovation.  Instead the Parliament is considering measures that would reduce domestic spending on R&D.

“The measure is all the more perplexing because the biggest direct impacts will be felt by organisations undertaking applied and commercial R&D.  In contrast, other current policy directions are focused on lifting commercial-related R&D.

“The proposals will add substantially to the complexity of Australia's R&D Tax Incentive.  To add insult to injury, the proposals may have retrospective effect.  If enacted they would certainly cut into existing, often collaborative R&D programs,” Willox said.

 

SA edges closer to a free range egg code of conduct

SA has drafted a voluntary free range egg code, where egg producers who meet the conditions will receive a trademarked tick of approval.

The South Australian Cabinet yesterday (9 February) approved the draft Fair Trading (SA Free Range Egg Industry Code) Regulations and associated trademark.

The Code outlines that in order to receive the endorsement, providers must meet conditions such as:

  • A maximum density of 1,500 layer hens per hectare on the outdoor range
  • Hens to have unrestricted access to outdoor areas during daylight hours
  • Outdoor areas to provide adequate shelter; and
  • A prohibition on induced moulting by food deprivation

“An effective and fair regulatory scheme cannot be made or implemented in haste and there is still more work to be done. We will be working with stakeholders and egg producers to seek their feedback on the draft voluntary code and trademark,” said Minister for Business Services and Consumers Gail Gago.

The national body that administers legislation governing trademarks, IP Australia, is required to examine the proposed trademark to ensure it doesn’t conflict with existing trademarks.

Also, the ACCC must assess and approve the rules for the use of the trademark to ensure it is not detriment to the public, likely to raise concerns relating to competition, unconscionable conduct, unfair practices and product safety.

The draft has prompted consumer watchdos, Choice, to call for a national free range egg standard.

“All Australians deserve greater clarity over free range eggs. While we welcome SA’s certification, we need an enforceable national standard on free range eggs that meets consumers’ expectations,” said Choice spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

NSW Fair Trading commenced work on the development of a national information standard for free range eggs in June 2014, following a super complaint from Choice.

CHOICE’s super complaint pointed out that while close to 40 percent of the egg market is free range, the egg industry had admitted that many products labelled ‘free range’ do not meet the existing voluntary national standard which sets a maximum stocking density of 1,500 hens per hectare on the outdoor range.

“What we need now is for other state and territory governments to follow the leadership position taken by both New South Wales and South Australia and deliver a national standard for consumers,” said Godfrey.

“A national standard makes sense for businesses and consumers. At the moment we have an absurd situation where consumers are given different information about eggs in different states. A shopper in Mount Gambier, SA will be getting different information to a shopper in Mumbannar, VIC even though the towns are half an hour apart.”

“Without an enforceable national standard, Australians in most states continue to pay a premium for eggs labelled ‘free range’ with little confidence they are getting the real deal.”

“A national standard will help us unscramble the meaning of free range, benefiting consumers and genuine free range producers across the country.”

The latest news follows the Federal Court’s ruling in September last year that Pirovic Enterprises engaged in misleading conduct and made misleading representations in its labelling and promotion of eggs as ‘free range’. It also follows the ACCC’s decision in December to take the supplier of Ecoeggs to court for alleged false and misleading free range claims.

 

Senator criticises ACCC’s decision not to oppose Primo takeover

Nationals Senator for New South Wales John Williams has called the ACCC’s decision not to oppose the proposed acquisition of Primo by JBS “very disappointing.”

As part of the review process, Williams lodged submissions on behalf of concerned people in the livestock industry, and their common worry was that the takeover would lessen competition at the saleyards.

Senator Williams said the ACCC agrees there is some lessening of competition, but then claims it is not a substantial lessening of competition.

He said the ACCC claims Primo is not a strong competitive restraint on JBS and tries to justify the distance of more than 500 kilometres between Primo’s Scone abattoir and JBS’s Queensland abattoirs to support its case.

“This is out of touch with reality because cattle can and are transported many hundreds, even thousands of kilometres,” Williams said.

“I find it confusing that on one hand the ACCC will not oppose this acquisition, yet in the next breath says it is wary of the potential impact of the further consolidation of abattoirs. If that is true, why didn’t it act in this instance?

“From talking with farmers and those in the livestock selling industry I know this decision will be met with dismay and only time will tell whether it is right,” Williams said.