Scary berries: trusting the food we eat

As of Wednesday evening 14 cases of hepatitis A have been linked to frozen berries. More are expected. Schools are on the alert as the berries have been used and consumed in cooking classes. At least one preschool used the berries to make smoothies for an afternoon snack.

Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce, said the government was considering a review of testing on imports under Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) as more hepatitis A cases turned up. His department wrote to the Chinese government to ask for assurances on the food testing measures.

As for the government doing anything concrete Abbott has virtually ruled it out, saying that it is the responsibility of businesses ‘not to poison their customers’. A crackdown would just add to the cost of food, he says.

Meanwhile Patties, the company concerned, has cast doubt on the quality of Australian produce, angering growers.

Patties say their:

“policy was to acquire Australian fruit wherever possible,” despite the fact in the past two years it sourced berries from China, New Zealand, Canada, Chile, United States, Greece, Turkey and Serbia.

In this case:

The four recalled products – one-kilogram packs of Nanna’s Raspberries and Frozen Mixed Berries, as well as 300 gram and 500 gram packs of Creative Gourmet Mixed Berries – were largely sourced and packed in China. (Emphasis added)


The Conversation has an explainer.

Hepatitis A can come from the berries being grown in infected water, washed in infected water, picked or packed by people carrying the virus, getting contaminated by infected animals, such as livestock, rats, mice or bats, at some stage in the production cycle, or mixing with other ingredients contaminated with hepatitis A virus during processing.

The infection can be inside the berry itself.

About 90 per cent of China’s groundwater is polluted, 65 per cent severely so, with contaminates such as pesticides, fertilisers and petrochemicals, a report from the Centre of International Security Studies at Sydney University showed.

The real problem, however, is faeces. Human poo is used in China as fertiliser. I understand that customs don’t test for bacterial or viral pollution. I did hear that the berries were now sent to an overseas lab for testing. Are we a first world country?

A new focus has come on labelling. Consumers want it, there have been endless inquiries, and exactly nothing happens. Choice tells us we are stuck with statements like ‘Packed in Australia using imported fruit’ or ‘Made in Australia using local and imported ingredients’ which offer very little information about a product’s origin and are largely meaningless to consumers.

It looks as though Joyce wants to do something about labelling, but I think it lies in the health portfolio. At least eight governments have to agree. Without the support of the PM who seems to have made up in his mind in the negative, nothing will happen

Ironically the Chinese would rather eat our fruit than their own if they can afford it, but there is no provision to export our produce directly to China. It has to go through third countries. We are currently working on a trade deal with China. Andrew Robb, please note!

19 thoughts on “Scary berries: trusting the food we eat”

  1. Not meaning to defend our PM on too many fronts, but the last noteable “concrete” action taken by a government was the knee-jerk banning of live exports to Indonesia. The effects of that are still reverberating.
    Of the huge amount of imported food entering our country, that we get so few incidents like the current hepatitis problem is surely in part due to regulations developed by various governments.
    Whilst serious enough, the current case is statistically an outlier.

    I think linking it to the PM’s ineptitude barely contributes to his woes. If you are like me I am tiring of the relentless attack on our government generally. Like most I think Abbott is doomed. If Malcolm then becomes PM is that good news for the Labor Party? I doubt it. And then do we see the start of another shit throwing assault on the new PM?

    Is anyone else sick of, or concerned by the destabilisation of our government? Suppose it comes to an early election? Has Labor reconstructed itself to again govern? On social policy Labor is a total winner over the LNP but the opposite is true on economic policy. Conclusion: neither party is fit to govern so we give the independents the deciding conch. And in some sense, no one is governing.

    It looks like the GOM in me is stirring again…

  2. Geoff, in the above my concern was to tell the situation as it is, not to throw shit at the current PM. There is an implied criticism on Abbott appearing to have pre-empted the government’s consideration of what to do, which I think would involve at least four ministers. That implied criticism is warranted.

    The latest Essential poll showed that the LNP is still trusted more than Labor on handling the economy. You’ve concluded that Labor is unfit to govern. With respect I think this judgement is premature. It’s not reasonable to expect a detailed, coherent account of what Labor will do at this point of the electoral cycle. Chris Bowen has a general outline of their approach in the Fin Review today. He calls for a frank acknowledgement of our current situation and the construction and articulation of a narrative on what to do about this. He says solving the problem should take priority over winning votes. He is promising a genuine contest of ideas.

    I think we should give him a chance, rather than talk over him as Leigh Sales did the other night. We would also await a contrasting narrative if the leadership of the LNP changes.

    I do think the MSM are piling into Abbott at present. We had three years of it with Julia Gillard. Part of Abbott’s problem is that he is continually giving us stuff that deserves criticism. I’ll continue to criticise him where he’s being particularly egregious, for example in attacking Gillian Triggs.

  3. The point you make about the current cases being a statistical outlier is a good one, but the public has a very low tolerance where food is concerned.

    On a similar statistical matter, there were more deaths per thousand in insulation installations before the so-called ‘pink batts’ program. There is zero tolerance, however, for workers dying in the ceilings of homes in a government funded program.

  4. Brian at 3 & 4 – thanks for your remarks and I appreciate seeing where I may have erred.

    I have not seen the Fin, but it sounds like what was proposed very sensibly on Q & A this week. I’m deeply concerned – OK scared – by what I consider the political boys behaving badly. Above all I want decent government whosoever the people vote in.

  5. No probs, Geoff. There is a tendency on the left to hope that Abbott stays on, as he will easier to defeat than Turnbull, Bishop or whoever else. It’s perhaps not best for the country, however.

    Back to the topic, Labor is very similar to the LNP on matters of trade and customs. The issue of labelling, for example, dates back to Howard’s time. People have very simple expectations, which for one reason or another are never met.

  6. Interesting that almost no expense will be spared protecting us from “terrorism” (metadata collection etc etc), but security of our food is “too expensive”. I see an opening for creative terrorists.

  7. Apparently 5.4 million Australians get food poisoning each year.
    Governments fault ?
    I’m leaning toward NO.

  8. Probably no as such, but probably there are regulations governing the preparation and serving of food to the public.

    Jim Soorley as Brisbane Lord Mayor, for example, changed our culinary culture by allowing al fresco eating on footpaths.

  9. kN @7, at the risk of appearing combative, I don’t believe anybody has blamed the government for the outbreak of Hepatitis A. It was the berries what done it.

  10. zoot @9

    Combative ? Not at at all, my good friend.
    I was, in my own special way, meekly agreeing with Geoff Henderson about the statistical insignificance and media beat up.

    Just another ” There’s a fly in the Australian soup !!! How the Hell could the Government let this happen ? What is Nanny going to DO to save us !!?!? ” moment.

    If Barnaby were PM ( and I’ve been labelled an Agrarian Socialist before this for suggesting it ) we would be a more self-reliant, realistic Nation of Doers.

  11. ( On a totally separate note, this Cat 4, despite the BOM horses shit, is on track to hit Mackay fair in the guts. Been sayin that all day. If you look at Creal Reef winds, it’s going West not South West as the BOM talking head assured us was the only way it could go.
    Just got the Makita 18v gear [ lights, radio, screw gun ..] off the Ute as my last order of cyclone prep,

    Phoned 3 fellow ex-pro GBR fishermen and we are in sinc, chances are high.

    Giddy Up ! )

  12. kN @ 10: Good to hear it. So you’ll agree that the even less statistically significant threat of us being murdered in our beds by terrorists should be off the agenda as well.

  13. ( that said about an unpredictable thing but experience and precedence points that way. Me and mine are totally safe either way )

  14. kN @ 10: Good to hear it. So you’ll agree that the even less statistically significant threat of us being murdered in our beds by terrorists should be off the agenda as well.

    Absolutely, unless your a non-mulsim in a muslim dominated place.
    Let’s hope Australia doesn’t become that place.
    That’s the scary berries we need to prevent.

  15. … or are you saying Halal berries would be worth Nanny state’s attention?

    Only if the said berries have their throats slit with no more a stun than a few chants that Mo made up.

    And even then I’m free to choose, for now.

  16. Vindicated!!!!

    I’ve been hammering on for years about weakening our quarantine – about inadequate quality assurance on imported foodstuff, on clothing and on household and agricultural chemicals – about dodgy country-of-origin labelling. “Made from local and important materials” – and the alternative is “Made from off-planet materials” perhaps?

    If anyone dies from slip-ups like these, will any of those responsible be charged with and punished for manslaughter or mass-manslaughter?

  17. Speaking of FTAs, it appears that foreign workers are also covered in these.

    The Roy Hill iron ore project in the Pilbara was the first project to negotiate an EMA, with the Government announcing in May 2012 that in-principle agreement had been reached. It was stated that the EMA would allow up to 1715 overseas workers to be sponsored for work on the project over the course of the initial three year construction phase, in occupations including electricians, mechanical fitters, scaffolders, and boilermakers. However, in May 2013 the Department of Immigration and Citizenship advised a Senate Estimates Committee that, while the Minister had given in-principle agreement to the EMA, it was never finalised. In May 2014 the Department advised that no agreements were in place and there were no applications in the pipeline.

    Looking at the dates, Gillard was all for it then got cold feet and Abbott squashed it.
    What a topsy turvy Country we live in.

    ( FlagPost )

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