Question without notice
My question is to the Minister for Health.
Given the recent hepatitis A outbreak linked to imported Chinese berries and SPC’s call last week for more comprehensive testing after heavy metal contamination was found in imported canned peaches, are any steps being taken by the government to introduce more thorough testing of imported produce being sold to Victorians?
Ms Hennessy, Minister for Health
I thank the member for her question and congratulate her on her recent election and continuing advocacy for our local community. Similar to the member, I too share concerns about ensuring that the food that is imported, sold and consumed is safe, not just for all Victorians but also for the industries that are affected by the importation of food.
Responsibility for the regulation of food safety is dependent upon three separate tiers of government. In respect of imported foods, which goes to the heart of the member’s question, a significant onus is on the commonwealth Department of Agriculture. It runs the imported food inspection scheme. That scheme is responsible for inspecting foods as they enter the country. It applies a risk-based approach that then determines the level of inspection, or the percentage of inspection, of a particular food category.
I read today with much interest a statement by commonwealth ministers that berries would now be considered a medium risk. They were previously categorised as ‘surveillance’, which meant that 5 in 100 packages were inspected. They have now been reclassified as a medium risk, and 100 per cent screening will be provided of those frozen berries that are linked to factories in China that have an association with the hepatitis A that has been diagnosed.
While it has taken almost a week, certainly on behalf the Victorian government I welcome those additional inspections. I also make the point that it was in fact the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services that led to national notification of this issue through its robust processes. More broadly, I am keen to explore this with my colleagues who will also sit on the ministerial council of what is called FSANZ — Food Standards Australia New Zealand. We would like to consider and reflect upon whether or not the surveillance standards in that code adequately reflect the risks of the particular items that are now being imported.
The Victorian government has a responsibility, in conjunction with local government that goes to surveillance at the point of sale as opposed to the point of importation, and we will continue to work on that end. This whole discussion has also incited a discussion about country-of-origin food labelling. On this I have directed my department to work with other departments and the Municipal Association of Victoria to identify the extent and impact of non-compliance with current country-of-origin requirements. I look forward to working with the commonwealth and other levels of government to ensure that our food supply is as safe as it can be.
My question is again to the Minister for Health. Given that there clearly are risks associated with food being imported into Australia, I ask the government: will it commit to buying locally grown and manufactured food for government procurement policies in relation to food that it is providing to Victorians?
I thank the member for her supplementary question. Obviously, given the region she represents, she has a very strong commitment to and interest in the local food manufacturers. I can assure her that the Victorian Labor government supports Victorian food manufacturers. We are very strong supporters of growing local agriculture. We have committed $200 million in our Future Industries Fund. We have identified food and fibre as one of the six most important growth industries for this state. Prior to the last election Victorian Labor also committed to a Victorian industry participation program.
The purpose of that policy is all about supporting local procurement where possible. I am sure the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Industry will take a passion to locally produced fruit, like they do to locally produced steel.