Duck meat supplier, Luv-a-Duck, has been ordered to pay $360,000 by the Federal Court for making false representations on its packaging and in marketing material.
The Federal Court has ordered that Luv-a-Duck, a large supplier of duck meat products with a market share of about 40 percent, pay $360,000 in civil pecuniary penalties following action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The company must also pay $15,000 towards the ACCC's costs.
The court found that Luv-a-Duck had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct (or conduct likely to mislead or deceive) and made false representations by using words on its packaging, website, brochures and in a promotion for the Good Food & Wine Show in Adelaide in 2012, that its ducks were:
‘grown and grain fed in the spacious Victorian Wimmera Wheatlands’; and/or
‘range reared and grain fed’ (which mainly appeared as a logo).
The ACCC argued that these descriptions suggested Luv-a-Duck's products were from ducks that spent at least a substantial amount of time outdoors, were raised in a spacious outside environment and were of a different quality than duck meat products processed from barn-raised ducks.
In actual fact, Luv-a-Duck's ducks didn't spent any time outside their barn.
"This penalty is a further warning to the poultry industry and businesses generally that consumers are entitled to trust that what is said on product packaging and other promotional product material is true and accurate," said ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
"Traders who abuse the trust of Australian consumers may also find themselves exposed to similar enforcement action."
Credence claims, particularly in the food and beverage manufacturing industry, have been a point of focus for the ACCC this year.
Just last week, Baiada Poultry and Bartter Enterprises, the suppliers and processors of Steggles chicken products were ordered to pay $400,000 in penalties over misleading 'free to roam' claims.
Baiada Poultry and Bartter Enterprises, the suppliers and processors of Steggles chicken products have been ordered by the federal government to pay $400,000 in penalties over misleading 'free to roam' claims.
The Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc (ACMF), the peak industry body for Australia’s chicken meat industry, was also ordered to pay $20,000 in penalties.
The court declared that Baiada and Bartter engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct (or conduct liable to mislead and deceive) when it described on product packaging and in advertising that its meat chickens were ‘free to roam in large barns’.
The ACMF was found to be engaging in false, misleading and deceptive conduct by claimed in publications on its website that meat chickens produced in Australia were ‘free to roam’ or able to ‘roam freely’ in large barns.
ACCC chairman, Rod Sims, said "Consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions that value the types of claims that directly affect the integrity of the product, such as where or how something was made, grown or produced.
"Consumers must be able to trust that products match descriptions so they can make informed purchasing decisions. Misleading credence claims can also undermine the level playing field and disadvantage other suppliers."
In making its orders, the court also ordered ACMF to send a letter to its members advising of the outcome, with a copy of the court’s judgment enclosed, and ordered ACMF's staff to attend trade practices compliance training.
Treasury Wines Estates could be facing a class action by shareholders over the $160m write-down in stock which led to a 12 percent drop in shares and the ejection of chief executive, David Dearie.
Litigation funder IMF has claims that TWE engaged in ‘deceptive and misleading conduct’ in regards to disclosures in its troubled US business, and is calling upon shareholders to sign up for court action, The SMH reports.
TWE chairman, Paul Rayner has since blamed the oversupply of wine in the US – which led the destruction of almost 600,000 cases of old wine costing $34m, and a further $82.4m writedown on the value of bulk wine which was sold at fire sale prices – on a reporting oversight.
IMF, together with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers released a statement saying that a class action would allege that TWE engaged in practices that mislead the market, and in turn, breached its continuous disclosure obligations in regard to its over-stocked US distributors.
'The claims related to alleged misleading and deceptive conduct and allege breaches by Treasury Wine Estates of its continuous disclosure obligations in connection with the performance of its United States operations between 17 August 2012 and 14 July 2013 inclusive, although that period may ultimately be extended or shortened,’’ an IMF statement to the Australian Securities Exchange read.
TWE however ‘strongly denies’ any allegations made against the company.
“TWE advises that no proceedings have been served against the company at this time. TWE strongly denies any allegations of wrong doing and will defend any class action proceedings vigorously”, a TWE spokesperson told BusinessDay.
Workers at Baiada's chicken factory near Newcastle are claiming they've been underpaid, with one employee potentially owed $7,000 in backpay.
The workers concerned are supplied to the chicken processor by a labour hire company, Pham Poultry.
Both current and former employees are claiming they've been paid as little as half the legal minimum in cash, and with no payslips, the ABC reports.
Pham Poultry supplies foreign labour the Baiada – the umbrella company for brands including Lilydale and Steggles, and its director, Binh Nguyen, says the claims are "bullshit", arguing staff are paid in-line with the industry award.
Casual workers in the chicken processing industry are legally entitled to around $20 an hour, but two Chinese workers, Steve and Kelly, are claiming they were paid $12.50 an hour for men and $11.50 an hour for women.
Kelly is potentially owed $7,000 in backpay for 11 weeks work.
The workers are also claiming they worked six days a week, sometimes for up to 16 hours a day.
Kelly said the workers were paid $100 to live in a house with up to 30 people, with up to 12 people sharing a room.
"It's very dirty in the house. You have got mice, ants," she said.
The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, which earlier this year complained to Baiada about Pham Poultry, believes underpaid workers are probably owed $160,000 a month in backpay.
In 2011 images supplied to the SMH from Baiada's poultry plant in Laverton North in Victoria brought the company's food safety standards into question, with some of the pictures showing uncovered raw chickens palced on top of plastic bags filled with chicken, as well as cockroaches in storage containers.
Not long after, workers at the plant engaged in industrial action for 13 days with a round-the-clock picket line, demanding better pay and working conditions while also putting the spotlight on the death of Sarel Singh, who was decapitated when cleaning a chicken packing machine.
The owner of Wally's Piggery, based north-west of Canberra at Murrumbateman, has been served with 53 court notices relating to horrific acts of animal cruelty.
Last year animal welfare group, Animals Liberation NSW, released footage of the piggery which showed alleged acts of animal cruelty, with workers seen kicking piglets and beating sows with a sledgehammer.
According to the ABC, the footage led to police and RSPCA investigators raiding the piggery, and now the owner, Wally Perenc, has been served with 53 court notices to attend Yass Local Court under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
Chocolate giant, Cadbury, has lost its attempt to stop rival company, Whittaker's, from trademarking the name of a chocolate block.
Cadbury was trying to stop Whittaker's from trademarking the term 'Berry Forest', arguing it too closely resembles Cadbury's 'Black Forest' chocolate flavour and would confuse customers.
According to stuff.co.nz, the Intellectual Property Office ruled that Berry Forest is "sufficiently different" and could be registered as a trademark.
"I find that, as a whole, the opposed mark is visually, aurally, and, most importantly, conceptually dissimilar to the opponent's registered mark," said Jennie Walden, assistant commissioner of Trademarks.
A South Australian council is accusing supermarket giant, Coles, of 22 breaches of Australian food standards, after an investigation uncovered it was offering out-of-date, sometimes mouldy, food.
Lawyers for Coles were in court yesterday after an investigation by City of Onkaparinga found more than 17kg of out-of-date meat, pasta, dips and fruit, some of which was mouldy, was for sale at its McLanre Vale outlet.
According to AdelaideNow, the breaches were discovered on 4 April, but the case has been put off until next month after lawyers for both Coles and the City of Onkaparinga asked for the case to be adjourned to allow for negotiations.
The products involved in the case include:
Eight 125g packets of Moira Mac's Australian chicken breast slices with a 1 April use-by date.
Five 300g packets of Primo diced bacon-style pieces with a 29 March use-by date.
Eight 150g containers of Wattle Valley Chunky Dips baby spinach with cashew and parmesan with a 23 March use-by date.
Six 200g containers of Yumis Authentic Hommus Toppers marinated eggplant and za'atar with a 25 March use-by date.
Eight 150g containers of Wattle Valley Chunky Dips basil with cashew and parmesan with a 26 March use-by date.
Multiple containers of Pronoto E Fresco Aussie Mix "which were labelled in a manner that was likely to mislead or deceive."
More than 20,000kg of fake beef has been seized by police in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, with six meat workshops shut down.
The meat was actually pork and had been treated with chemicals including paraffin wax and industrial salts so it looks like beef.
According to Shanghailist, more than 1,500kg of the meat had been sold to local markets.
Six workshops producting the fake beef have been shut down and the meat seized as evidence.
This follows the horsemeat scandal which errupted in Europe earlier this year, where brands including beef producer JBS; supermarket chain Tesco; and frozen food company, Findus, were all forced to pull their products from shelves.
A French meat processing company, Spanghero, was at the centre of the controversy, accused of passing off 750 tonnes of horsemeat as beef.
A meatworker is suing his former employer Teys Australia for $750,000 over a February 2011 incident, in which he slipped and cut his hand on a metal tray.
The Morning Bulletin reports that Peter McKenzie’s claim lodged in the Rockhampton District Court stated that a damaged rubber strip on the tray – which McKenzie had earlier complained about – contributed to a fall from a fat- and blood-covered ladder.
When McKenzie fell, he grabbed the tray, severing tendons which required surgery to mend. The accident caused him to lose work and also possibly miss out on a promotion, McKenzie claims.
McKenzie’s legal representative, Gino Andrieri of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers said, “A case like this highlights the dangers in the workplace if complaints aren't acted on immediately."
A US court case challenging health claims on Coca-Cola's Vitaminwater beverages could proceed as a class-action lawsuit.
According to news.com.au, health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, together with consumers from California and New York, are accusing Coca-Cola Co of using deceptive labelling on its Vitaminwater drinks, including claims that the product reduces risk of eye disease and boosts the immune system.
Judge Robert Levy said the lawsuit can proceed as a class-action case, and the plaintiffs can seek injunctive relief, which would prevent Coca-Cola from making certain marketing claims, but Levy said the parties can't seek financial damages.
A Coca-Cola representative said the company is "very gratified" that monetary damage claims were denied, arguing that the plaintiffs' claims are without metit and "will ultimately be rejected."
Coca-Cola's attempts to have the case dismissed were rejected on technical grounds in 2010, with the Judge at the time, John Gleeson, arguing the beverage company's claims violates Food and Drug Administration labelling rules and that sugar isn't identified as a key ingredient, although itis listed in the nutrition information on the bottles.
Defending allegations it misled consumers by masking imported bread as freshly baked products, Coles says consumers shouldn't assume 'baked' means 'baked from scratch.'
The supermarket giant told the Federal Court that standard industry practice could become an issue in proving whether consumers believe bread from Coles' bakeries is baked fresh on-site, AFR reports.
In order to properly defend the allegations brought forward by the ACCC, Coles needs to prove that the average consumer should or would assume that the word 'baked' means something other than 'baked from scratch.'
In June, the ACCC launched legal proceedings against Coles for supplying bread that's partially baked and frozen off-site, transported to Coles stores, ‘finished’ in-store and then promoted as ‘Baked Today, Sold Today’ and/or ‘Freshly Baked In-Store’.
While the ACCC claimed Coles actions create an unfair playing ground for those bakeries genuinely baking fresh products daily, the supermarket chain claims par-baked products are "commonly offered" for sale in supermarkets, fast food outlets, bakeries and restaurants.
Coles also explained that certain bread labels stated the product was 'Made in Ireland.'
The Federal Court of Australia has brought down its decision in the ‘free to roam’ case. The Court has clarified that our consumer protection laws are about, well, consumers!
Some background to the case can be found here. In brief, two chicken processors made statements that their chickens, when growing, were ‘free to roam in large barns’. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) noted that the chickens each had less space than an A4 sheet of paper for much of their growing cycle. The ACCC claimed that the advertising was misleading and deceptive, and contravened the Australian Consumer Law. The Federal Court has agreed.
The controversy behind the case is that chickens ‘flock’. They do not tend to wander aimlessly, even if given the chance. An expert in animal welfare provided evidence to the Court that:
“The scientific literature on stocking density indicates that stocking densities [more than those involved in the case] do not affect the spatial distribution of broiler chickens, the time spent walking, the distances travelled by commercial broiler chickens or walking ability …”.
At least one commentator made the same point arguing that the ACCC was not protecting animal welfare by its case.
No, they weren’t!
As the Court has made clear, animal behaviour and animal welfare is not the relevant test. The Consumer Law is anthropomorphic. It asks what consumers will infer from claims made by business.
“It is necessary for the Court to determine how this statement would reasonably be understood by a significant number of those persons to whom it was directed and, in particular, whether the phrase would have conveyed, as the ACCC contended, the assertion that the chickens had “substantial space available allowing them to roam around freely” in the sheds.”
And the Court agreed with the ACCC.
For business the lesson is clear. In advertising, business must ask themselves a simple question: What will consumers infer from my claims? If the inference is false then the advertisement is misleading and deceptive. Whether ‘organic’, ‘full of fruit’, ‘free range’ or some other term, the consumer laws look at the interpretation by consumers.
Stephen King does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
Baiada Poultry and Bartter Enterprises, the processors and suppliers of Steggles chicken products, misled consumers by claiming their chickens were "free to roam", when really their movements were restricted to an area comparable to an A4 sheet of paper, a court has found.
Following a complaint by the ACCC, the Federal Court found the companies misled consumers by using the term "free to roam" in its marketing campaigns.
The Australian Chicken Meat Federation, the peak industry body for Australia’s chicken meat industry, was also found to have engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct by claiming on its website that chickens produced in Australia were ‘free to roam’ or able to ‘roam freely’ in large barns.
The court found that the ordinary and natural meaning of the phrase ‘free to roam’ is “the largely uninhibited ability of the chickens to move around at will in an aimless manner.” However, Justice Tracey found that at times in their growth cycle the chickens “could not move more than a metre or so (at most) without having their further movement obstructed by a barrier of clustered birds."
Steggles' statistics indicated consistent stocking densities of between 17.4 and 19.6 chickens per square metre. The ACCC alleged that at these densities each chicken, on average, had access to floor space which was less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper and that this was contrary to the representation that they were ‘free to roam’.
The industry has stopped using the 'free to roam' term, but questions still surround the legitimacy of a similar claim – 'free range.'
The ACCC announced earlier this year that it would be placing special attention on credence claims in the food industry including free range claims, country of origin labelling and the labelling of olive oil.
There's been growing interest in the case to clearly define – and introduce standards for – free range labelling. In May, Human Society International delivered 40,000 postcards to the prime minister at the time, Julia Gillard, in protest of the continued mislabelling of free range eggs.
Lee McCosker, chief operating officer for Humane Choice, the certification scheme launched by HSI, said consumer's are becoming increasingly frustrated with misleading labelling and Australia's big retailers and industry bodies, including the Australian Egg Corporation, aren't taking their concerns seriously.
"They have attempted to take advantage of the consumer’s limited knowledge of egg production systems while toying with their concerns for hen welfare and reaping a premium for mislabelled eggs," she said.
HSI has been urging the federal government to take action by legislating a national standard for free range eggs.
The proposal, McCosker says, will encourage supermarkets to make a broader selection of eggs available to consumers.
"I believe this industry code will actually bring clarity to the free range confusion and those producers that are meeting consumer expectation will stand out from the crowd. Consumers will then be able to decide if they are willing to pay a little more for what they want, or accept eggs grown under a more intensive operation. The choice will be made a lot clearer," she said.
Other brands penalised for making misleading claims include Luv-a-Duck, which has been accused of deceptive conduct by claiming its ducks are ‘grown and grain fed in the spacious Victorian Wimmera Wheatlands’, when it's been found the animals didn't have substantial access to outdoors.
Fellow duck producer, Pepe's, was fined $40,000 late last year for misleading its consumers and was told it may no longer use the slogan 'grown nature’s way' or 'open range' on its packaging or in its marketing.
Its logo of an 'open range' duck walking towards a lake must also not be used for a period of three years unless it is accompanied by the phrase 'barn raised.'
The mother of a 19 year old boy who died from cardiac arrhythmia last year is suing Monster Beverage Corp, claiming her son would still be alive if it wasn't for his energy drink habit.
Alex Morris died on July 1, 2012 and a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court alleges Morris wouldn't have died if you didn't drink two cans of Monster energy drink every day for the three years before his death.
According to the Huffington Post, Morris' mother, Paula Morris, is the case's plaintiff.
This isn't the first time Monster has been faced with legal action. The family of a 14 year old, Annais Fournier, last year sued the company after the young girl died after consuming two 24 ounce cans of the drink.
Attorney Alexander Wheeler said "Our allegations in the lawsuits are the same and that's the peoples deaths were caused by these energy drinks and, more specifically, the defendants failure to warn about the dangers."
In response to the Fournier case, Monster claimed that no blood test had been performed to confirm the girl had died of caffeine toxicity, as claimed in the lawsuit, instead arguing she had died of natural causes brought on by pre-existing conditions.
South Australian smallgoods brand, Conroy's, has been hit with a $8,000 fine for four hygiene standards breaches at its Bowden factory.
According to ABC, the breaches, which were discovered during a random audit, include storing meat in a chill room contaminated by grease, keeping a soiled pallet in a meat storage area and inappropriate and poorly-located handwashing facilities.
Conroy's said the breaches were an oversight and due to a breakdown in processes, and the company had introduced better practices since the breaches were uncovered.
The court also heard that this isn't the first time Conroy's has been reprimanded for hygiene breaches, but Magistrate Simon Smart said the current breaches are minor by comparison and there's no evidence that they've led to adverse health effects.
Rumours that staff at Baiada's chicken processing plant near Griffith are being underpaid are unfounded, says the Australasian Meatworkers Union.
The union visited Baiada's Hanwood factory recently amid claims agency workers were being underpaid, but according to the state secretary, Charlie Donzo, all workers are being paid in accordance with the enterprise agreement, and contract labourers are actually receiving more than the award wage.
The findings come ahead of an expansion at the chicken processing company, which will see it increase staff numbers.
According to the ABC, there have also been rumours of illegal overseas workers at Baiada, but Donzo said these are also unfounded.
"I'm assured by my organisers that the management at Hanwood continually check visas to make sure that any employees that are employed there are current visa holders," he said.
The inquiry into Baiada's treatment of staff comes more than 18 months after the company was heavily criticised for subjecting workers to "brutal" working conditions.
In late 2011 workers at the Baiada chicken factory in Laverton North went on strike for 13 days to campaign for inmproved conditions.
Staff complaints ranged from being paid as little as $8 an hour to being forced to clean the remains of a co-worker – who'd been killed in a chicken packing machine – from the machine so production could recommence.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched proceedings in the Federal Court against Coles.
The ACCC is alleging Coles has engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct in the supply of bread that was partially baked and frozen off-site, transported to Coles stores and ‘finished’ in-store. The products were then promoted as ‘Baked Today, Sold Today’ and/or ‘Freshly Baked In-Store’ at Coles stores with in-house bakeries.
The legal action covers various ‘Cuisine Royale’ and ‘Coles Bakery’ branded bread products.
The ACCC alleges that labels on these par baked products stating ‘Baked Today, Sold Today’ and in some cases ‘Freshly Baked In-Store’, and nearby prominent signs stating ‘Freshly Baked’ or ‘Baked Fresh’, were likely to mislead consumers into thinking that the bread was prepared from scratch in Coles’ in-house bakeries on the day it was offered for sale.
Coles also uses these same representations to promote bread that has been made from scratch in Coles’ in-store bakeries. A statement issued by the ACCC says it is "concerned that Coles’ lack of distinction in its promotional representations between bread products that are freshly prepared from scratch and par baked products is misleading to consumers and places competing bakeries that do freshly bake from scratch at a competitive disadvantage."
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said, "There are two important issues at stake. First, consumers must be able to make informed purchasing decisions. Bread is an important grocery basket staple and customers need to be confident in claims made about food they buy.
"We believe consumers are likely to have been misled by Coles that the entire baking process, including preparation, occurred in-store, when in fact the bakery products were prepared and partially baked off site, frozen, transported and then ‘finished’ in store. Indeed, the Cuisine Royale products were partially baked overseas.
"Second and just as important, is the detrimental impact on the businesses of competitors. Misleading credence claims can undermine the level playing field and disadvantage other suppliers. In this case those suppliers are the smaller, often franchised bakeries that compete with Coles," Sims said.
In a statement issued by Coles, the supermarket expressed its intention to "vigorously defend the action brought against it by the ACCC.
"Coles has only just become aware of the ACCC legal action and will fully examine the ACCC statement before making any further comment," the statement reads.
The Coles owned liquor chain, Liquorland, has been accused of patronising residents of Maylands, Western Australia by suggesting alcoholics can't understand advertisements' small print.
Liquorland was appealing an earlier rejection of a big-barn liquor store in Maylands and in addition to also losing its appeal, the brand was slammed by Supreme Court Justice James Edelman for suggesting nearby residents of homeless shelters wouldn't be affected by its advertising because they wouldn't understand the small print.
According to thewest.com.au, Justice Edelman referred submissions by Coles' lawyers as "breathtaking".
"There was evidence that Liquorland's website promised that 'if you find a cheaper liquor price anywhere, we'll beat it'. In a breathtaking submission before the Liquor Commission (that was repeated on this appeal), counsel argued that the small-print conditions upon these promises of cheap alcohol by his client (such as availability of stock by a competitor, verification of price etc) were such that disadvantaged or marginalised persons would not be able to meet them," he said.
Lisa Baker, local MP, said Coles' comments were patronising.
"Whatever possessed them to think that vulnerable people didn't have the intellectual capacity to cross the road to take advantage of their lower prices," she said.
A Dick Smith Foods advertisement featuring repeated use of the phrase “I love Dick” and a burning boat with asylum seekers has been deemed “inappropriate” though not racist by the Advertising Standards Board.
Mumbrella reports that the television ad, which was released on Australia Day this year, was considered “insensitive and inappropriate” by the ASB. The complaint against the ad read, “This contained offensive material where Dick was seen to declare ‘no wonder everyone’s trying to get here!’ in front of images of actors, who I assume were supposed to be asylum seekers arriving on shore with the image of a burning and sinking boat in the background. Please get this racist crap off our screens. It’s offensive and inaccurate.”
Dick Smith Foods said that the commercial was, “clearly satirical, juxtaposing the sad fact that immigration in Australia is a highly contentious, topical issue against the clearly farcical assertion that the Dick Smith Food’s product is the reason for the increasing number of immigrants.”
The company also said that Smith himself, a high-profile entrepreneur, and his organisation has donated “considerable financial support” to individuals seeking asylum in Australia.
The horse meat scandal was devastating for a number of international brands, forced to pull their products from the shelves and deal with the subsequent loss in consumer confidence. Australia stands unscathed from the whole incident. How? And why? Danielle Bowling reports.
It was the story that just wouldn’t go away. Every day there was a new headline and a new development; a new brand embroiled in the horse meat scandal, which triggered several product recalls, formal investigations and even arrests.
Supermarket chains Tesco and Aldi recalled their frozen spaghetti and lasagne products, produced by French supplier, Comigel, amid concerns over its Findus beef lasagne product.
After the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found horse DNA in burger products, ten million were pulled from the various supermarket shelves across Europe. Even furniture retailer IKEA became involved, recalling its meatball products across Europe after tests in the Czech Republic discovered some meatballs sold in the chain’s cafeterias contained horse meat. The affected batch had been distributed to Britain, Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium, Slovakia, Hungary, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland.
The scandal even spread to Asia with Hong Kong authorities ordering supermarket chain, ParknShop, to remove lasagnes made by frozen food company Findus, one of the firms at the centre of the scandal.
French meat processing firm, Spanghero, is said to be at the heart of the scandal, allegedly passing off more than 700 tonnes of horsemeat as beef, with manufacturers none the wiser, and is no longer allowed to stock frozen meat.
Dodged the bullet
Australia, thankfully, steered clear of the whole situation. But how?
The Australian Food and Grocery Council’s deputy chief executive, Jeffrey Annison, told Food magazine the European horse meat scandal demonstrated to Australian food manufacturers that the food supply chain is a safe and effective one.
“I think that if it had any impact here it was to remind us all in the food industry and the wider community of the importance of focusing on the things that the food industry does well in Australia, which is to make sure the integrity of the food supply is maintained and that’s in terms of quality of product, safety of product and correct information going out to the consumer about the product,” he said.
The four key pillars of an effective food supply, he says, are a strong regulatory system; an understanding that food safety and food security are built on food quality and safety plans; an appropriate monitoring and surveillance system; and traceability up and down the food supply system.
Australian manufacturers – and perhaps more importantly, consumers – need to understand that the problems overseas were to do with illegal activity, not industry negligence.
“So those are the four pillars, and those are designed to protect against inadvertent loss of quality or safety,” Annison says, “of course what happened in Europe was food adulteration, so it was driven by profit rather than accidental contamination. Now that’s harder to control but you still need strong regulatory systems and monitoring systems.
“The usual driver for food adulteration is criminal profit, and against the backdrop of having relatively cheap foodstuffs in Australia, there’s less drive for criminals to wish to come in and make a profit,” Annison said. “If you have relatively cheap beef, there’s no advantage to trying to substitute it with horse meat.”
Peter Day, director of compliance and enforcement at the NSW Food Authority, agrees, and says Australia’s geographical isolation is one of the main reasons why local manufacturers weren’t caught up in the scandals that their European counterparts were.
“I think we’re lucky in Australia because it’s a different situation to Europe, in many cases, because we’ve got a border. We don’t have a single marketplace and so we don’t import a lot of meat either. Generally, speaking, meat’s fairly cheap over here as well, so there’s a ready supply of cheap, manufacturing meat around,” Day says.
“The other issue is that a lot of companies are actually banned from importing meat products into Australia because of the Mad Cow issue. So only a very limited number of countries can import cooked meat into Australia.”
By and large, Australian manufacturers don’t import meat because financially it doesn’t make sense when we can more easily produce our own top quality, affordable and traceable meat products. We also have a very effective, thorough screening and testing process, says Day.
“We had a royal commission 20-plus years ago and since then AQIS (Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service) has been doing species testing on a lot of meat samples going out of the country to overseas markets, and domestic regulators, like ourselves, do routine surveillance programs. Last year we took 100 samples to see what we would pick up. You simply cant sample every single product, but you’re casting a net over it to make sure that no problems show up.”
So what did we learn?
In the wake of the horse meat scandal, and despite already having effective testing procedures in place, Day said many regulators will tighten up their systems even more.
“I think it was probably a bit of a wake up call to both regulators and the industry in general, looking at their current systems of detecting and trying to eliminate this type of thing from happening here. I know in NSW we had a program in place anyway and we looked at it and where necessary we’ve actually enhanced the program of testing.
“We do testing on cooked and raw meat samples for species. So we looked at things to make sure that we were covering everything. So, do we need to cover other areas that we weren’t normally covering? We were making sure we had access to labs and so on. We did a bit of a review to make sure that our program was still current given the information that was coming in from Europe,” he said.
“And we found that our system was fairly good in terms of the testing systems out there. But I think for Australian regulators there was a need for a review, to see how they were conducting surveillance operations.”
Day said he’s expecting more labs to be conducting species tests moving forward, especially because manufacturers now want to confirm, via routine sampling and as an assurance to supermarkets, that what they say they’re producing is exactly what they are producing.
Perhaps the most important lesson for manufacturers is the importance of monitoring your suppliers.
The AFGC’s Jeffrey Annison said while Australian companies are already quite good at this, it’s never something you can be complacent about.
“I think every time there’s a food safety incident, it’s a reminder that the manufacturers are very reliant on the integrity of their suppliers and they need to make sure that they can check on that through establishing strong relationships and agreements about product specifications and so forth,” he said.
Peter Day agrees, and is clear in his advice to manufacturers. “Audit your suppliers. Check your suppliers out. Have a specification sheet which stipulates what you require from them and then rest that the make sure what you want is what you’re getting."
Supermarkets hold manufacturers to very tight specifications and manufacturers need to be able to say – and prove – that what is on their label’s product is completely accurate.
European consumers have no doubt been left shaken and surely cynical on the food processing industry as a result of the horse meat scandal. But are Australian consumers aware of how protected Australia was throughout the whole ordeal? Will they be skeptical, albeit unnecessarily, of Australian products?
Day believes the biggest problem in Europe now is that well-known brands have been tarnished, and when consumer confidence is lost, it’s very hard to get back. The thorough testing and screening processes which Australia’s food manufacturing industry can boast should reassure consumers that they are indeed getting what they are asking for.
“I think Australian consumers probably don’t think a lot about where their food comes from until something like this happens. They don’t think about all the links involved in being a food manufacturer and [in getting a product] to a store freezer. This incident highlights the length of the food chain thesedays, from farm to factory. It heightens concerns by consumers out there of the system, but they can have confidence that it’s being dealt with and there are programs in place to look out for that sort of thing in Australia.”