For many years I. along with a lot of other people, have been concerned about the demise of Australia’s vegetable processing which has cost jobs for processors and farmers alike. This situation has come about through the importation of food from countries that do not provide, and are not required by law to offer, the same wages and conditions for workers as are offered in Australia. A farm worker in Australia could look at $25 an hour whilst a worker in some poorer countries would hope for two dollars a day. It seems to me supermarkets and food processors conveniently forget slave and child labour and substandard working conditions in overseas countries in order to minimise costs and maximise profits.
Over those many years I, along with others, have forecast one day cheap products will not only cost us wealth and jobs but place our health at risk. Again and again, most recently in the past week, we have seen incidents where people have been made ill from food from overseas. What we have seen may be the tip of the iceberg. For many years we could have been exposed to danger through eating vegetables products sprayed with chemicals that have been banned in Australia or never even considered safe for Australian use. The biggest concern to me is that we may discover in years to come what we eat today may cause damage to a great many people. Remember asbestos and how many people have been affected?
After the latest problem all our main stream political parties say that the biggest thing we can do is identify all Australian products. The fact is this will never work as importers will find ways around the rules of Australian labelling. It already happens with the Australian Made and Made in Australia labels – subtle wording changes open to misinterpretation by the consumer.
THE ANSWER is very simple. Any country wanting to import food into Australia must have the same rules applied to their farmers as supermarkets apply to our producers and processors. If other countries cannot attain these standards then their products will be blocked from Australia. The much spouted mantra of a level playing field should be applied by not lowering our standards but expecting others to rise to ours.
Australian producers have not only to compete against low wages they have to abide with tight QA systems that involve audited measures that ensure they undertake chemical training and assessment. Additionally, when they do spray they must keep tight records that have to be audited outlining chemicals use, amount of spray used, time of use, as well as chemical batch numbers. Water is also tested for pathogens to ensure that the irrigation water is clean and safe to use. Imagine testing for pathogens in some of the waters in Southeast Asia as many are chemical and sewage laden. In fact a recent TV report suggested 90% of water in China is polluted. Other reports suggest that 60% of underground water supply cannot be direct used for drinking. According to a report released earlier in April on the website of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, one-fifth of Chinese farmland is polluted as a result of the country’s dramatic industrialization, overuse of farm chemicals and minimal environmental protection.
The point is, we should be fussy about our food yet we, as consumers, are not only happy for food providers and processors to import food grown in very different circumstances and under much lower regulatory requirements, than we would accept from Australian producers, which could potentially adversely affect our health and wellbeing but to unhesitatingly purchase such items.
Surely the time has come that Australia should insist that all food coming into Australia has undergone the same tight regulatory requirements that Australian producers undertake. I suspect a lot of food would not even get out of the paddock if the same systems were applied for overseas product. People visiting these countries that grow a lot of Australia’s food are coming back and talking about seeing practices that cause concern.
The simple fact is Australian producers are being discriminated against by our own supermarket giants, who tell producers and processor alike if they can’t produce vegetables at the same price as places like China, they will continue to buy from other countries. The welfare of their consumers is not as high a priority as making profits. Additionally, the Aussie producer’s high level of commitment ensures a safe, quality product and they need to be recompensed for this and not a level that is often below the cost of production.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Australian media showed the unhygienic growing conditions of imported food product as these have the potential to bring huge health and wellbeing problems for Australians and supported the Australian primary producers who are producing a quality product in a quality environment and encouraged the consumer to reward these producers by purchasing their product?