Independent Senator Nick Xenophon is calling for two separate inquiries in the wake of a hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen berries from China, which has now affected 12 people.
Mr Xenophon said there should be an urgent independent review into Australia’s imported food safety regime and a Senate inquiry for MPs to test evidence in public hearings.
He said the outbreak had undermined Australia’s confidence in the safety of imported foods.
“This is a serious and widening outbreak of illness apparently caused by basic hygiene failures in China,” Mr Xenophon said.
“These berries were considered ‘low risk’ but failed the most basic of health checks – carrying a bacteria common in faecal matter.
“This shows systemic failures in the way that imported foods are screened in this country.”
Mr Xenophon said the entire imported food surveillance and risk management system, conducted by the Department of Agriculture and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), should be independently reviewed to fix any systematic problems and clear the air.”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,” he said.
“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 said there also needs to be a thorough review and systematic overhaul of the nation’s food labelling laws.
“Currently you can call something ‘made in Australia’ so long as 51 per cent by value (including processing) was done in Australia,” he said.
“That’s nowhere near good enough for consumers to make an informed choice.”
He said he wrote to Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce today to request the review.
Mr Joyce said consumers should know where products come from.
“We do that by better labelling. Now the issue of testing and stringencies in testing, that’s something that also works with FSANZ, that is works within health protocols,” he said.
Twelve confirmed cases of hepatitis A
Twelve people – five in Queensland, three in Victoria, and four in New South Wales – have become sick with hepatitis A after eating Nanna’s frozen mixed berries.
On Tuesday, Nanna’s raspberries one-kilogram packs became the fourth frozen berry product to be recalled in the wake of the outbreak.
Patties Foods managing director Steven Chaur said there were no tests linking the product to hepatitis A.
“Investigations through our supply chain have identified a specific source of raspberries as a potential common link to the possible safety issues raised by health authorities,” he said.
“The specific source supplied raspberries which were packed in Nanna’s and Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries, that were the subject of the consumer recall announced over the weekend.”
Mr Chaur said scientific tests into the berries were ongoing.
He apologised to consumers and said the company was “working proactively” with health authority investigations.
The recall of Nanna’s raspberries one-kilogram packets relates to products with best before dates up until November 22, 2016.
Concerned consumers can call Patties Foods on 1800 650 069.