Chinese canned imports scandal
- From: The Weekly Times
- January 29, 2014
IMPORTED Chinese canned peaches are at the centre of another health scandal, amid growing calls for the Federal Government to save Australia's last fruit processor.
Victorian and Commonwealth health authorities are investigating reports of high levels of lead found in imported preserved peaches during two tests last year.
The revelations have sparked renewed calls for stronger country-of-origin labelling, increased testing and for governments to buy Australian-grown and manufactured food for aged-care facilities, hospitals and the defence forces.
The health scare comes as Federal Cabinet will tomorrow reconsider a $25 million assistance package for SPC Ardmona to upgrade its Goulburn Valley processing plant.
Tests on canned peaches, believed to be funded by a group of Australian food companies, were twice conducted at the National Measurement Institute between last July and October.
One test found Chinese imported peaches contained 0.2mg per kilogram of lead, which is twice the Australian and New Zealand food standard of at or below 0.1mg/kg.
In a second test, one sample of peaches contained 0.11mg/kg. In the same tests, Australian tinned peaches contained 0.018 mg/kg.
Another six types of imported peaches tested were also below the limit for lead content.
High levels of lead ingested by humans can cause immediate and long-term health problems, including brain damage, damage to the digestion, reproduction and nervous system.
Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable.
Victorian Health Minister David Davis has asked the Chief Health Officer Rosemary Lester for "urgent scientific and technical advice'' on the issues.
Victoria's health department and the Commonwealth agriculture department confirmed they are investigating test results.
Liberal MP Sharman Stone, a vocal supporter of SPCA's case for taxpayer-funded aid, said the test results had reinforced "the high-risk foreign food imports could contain".
She is also lobbying federal and state governments to support Australian food processors in contracts with public hospitals, nursing homes and defence forces.
SPC Ardmona has been critical of testing standards Australian growers and food processors are forced to meet compared with imports.
It has highlighted the increased number of cheap foreign imports in the local market and of inferior quality as a major influence on its plight.
Supermarkets Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have recently moved to source Australian-grown and canned produced in their own-brand produce.
Imported food identified to be a "risk" is initially inspected by the Agriculture Department and tested at a rate of 100 per cent against a published list of potential hazard, including micro-organisms and contaminants.
Once five consecutive consignments have passed inspection, the inspection rate is reduced to 25 per cent; after a further 20 consecutive passes, the rate is reduced to 5 per cent.
Vegetable grower lobby group Ausveg has also argued Australian fresh vegetable growers were held to higher standards than imports and have called for imports testing quotas to be lifted to 25 per cent.
Queensland MP Bob Katter said yesterday Australian standards were at one level and world's standards at another.
"Surely a consumer is entitled to know that that item coming into Australia is an import and has that risk attached to it,'' Mr Katter said.
Aid for SPC has divided Coalition MPs and Federal Cabinet and could become a decision for Prime Minister Tony Abbott.