Berry recall highlights the risk of a global production chain

Nine people have become sick with hepatitis A after eating Nanna’s frozen mixed berries, which were imported from China.

The products were distributed by Patties Foods and the contamination has been traced back China, where the berries were sourced.

In response to the recall, trade analysts have said the globalised food production increased the risk of contamination, ABC News reports.

University of Queensland senior research officer David Adamson specialises in food safety in trade deals.

He said details on food sanitation requirements introduced in the China free trade deal were hard to find.

“Most people would be thinking that the food only goes one way, from Australia to China,” he said.

“Where in fact we've just seen here that we actually import a lot of repackaged or processed food from China.”

Adamson said there were risks surrounding food safety in China.

"We've seen this happen with melamine milk, we've seen this happen with rat meat passed off as lamb," he said.

"It's a very important issue to China and they're doing their best to stamp down on it.

"But we keep having incidences associated with chicken meat from China being exported to places like Japan [where it was] subsequently by McDonalds and also KFC – which causes enormous economic implications not only for those countries and those companies, but the people affected by these goods."

Adamson said if Australia wanted to import more food from China, it needed to change its regulations to stop safety being compromised.

"We actually have a very reactive screening process going on, but the question is how much product can we actually screen at any one given time," he said.

"You've got an enormous amount coming in.

"As we keep reducing the amount of services that we put in this area, and trying to speed up the process and throughput, gaps occur and this causes unintended consequences."

Adamson said the solution involved setting strict conditions and requirements to export to Australia.

"This is what we use under the Australian import risk assessment procedure where we say these are the rules we would like you to use," he said.

"The problem we have is these can be challenged either by a trading agreement or within the World Trade Organisation."

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

Choice said the Committee on Agriculture and Industry’s recommendations in October last year regarding country-of-origin missed an opportunity to simplify the system.

“One of the products in the latest recall, Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries, is listed on the Coles website as being ‘Packed in Australia using imported fruit’.  This claim is totally meaningless when it comes to the country of origin of the fruit inside the pack.”

“Consumers shouldn’t have to use country of origin labelling as a proxy for food safety, we should be able to purchase food on sale in our supermarkets knowing it’s safe to eat regardless of its origin.”


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