The relentless onslaught of cheap imported produce onto the Australian market has shown no signs of abating, with a new report from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) indicating that processed fruit and vegetables contributed the majority of food imports between 2010 and 2012, a figure of around 15%.
“The value of imported processed fruit and vegetables increased by $264 million over the five-year period. This is a shocking and grim statistic that highlights the challenges facing the industry,” said AUSVEG Spokesperson, Hugh Gurney.
AUSVEG is the National Peak Industry Body representing Australia’s 9,000 vegetable and potato growers.
It has been a tumultuous year for the Australian food processing industry, with several large processors falling victim to the mounting pressure of foreign food imports. Prominent processor Rosella has now permanently ceased operations after falling into receivership late last year, and more recently, Windsor Farm Produce was placed into voluntary administration.
“Our sector is facing a crisis. Like dominoes, Australian food processors are toppling over in their tracks. Government action is critical if we want to continue to feed our own country into the very near future,” said Mr Gurney.
According to the report titled Australian food statistics 2011-12, New Zealand continues its reign as the biggest source of the nation’s food imports.
“This revelation is especially frightening, given the fact that New Zealand imports Chinese produce, processes it in New Zealand and exports it to countries like Australia under the guise of ‘Made in New Zealand with local and imported ingredients’.”
“The safety and quality of vegetables produced in China cannot be guaranteed because they are not grown to the strict standards required here in Australia. It has been reported that Chinese farmers have sprayed produce with formaldehyde – a toxic chemical used to preserve human flesh – to preserve it during periods of unrefrigerated transport.”
“In addition, ABC’s AM reported in February on the extensive use of antibiotics on Chinese pig farms, where it was found that manure – later re-used as horticultural fertiliser – contained large concentrations of genes that have the potential to establish colonies of antibiotic resistant bacteria on crops. These life threatening superbugs, such as E. coli, could be transported on vegetables to consumers here in Australia, with no current way of testing for them,”
“Overhauling currently confusing Country of Origin Labelling legislation will help all Australians to better distinguish top-shelf, Aussie produce that is safe to eat from its often inferior foreign counterparts,” said Mr Gurney.