Freshcare Forum + GLOBALG.A.P. Tour Stop – Partnering for Global Assurance

Published on September 1, 2017

The 2017 Freshcare Forum in Sydney showed the industry focused host organisation at the forefront of several major initiatives in Australia’s horticulture industry.

The event, co-badged with the GLOBALG.A.P. TOUR Stop, facilitated the coming together of 138 attendees from across Australia, New Zealand and Spain, representing a cross section of industry; Auditors/Certification Bodies, Government, Industry Associations, Industry Service Providers, Primary Producers, Research and Development, Training Providers, Retail, Students, Supply Chain and Wholesalers.

Outlining the organisation’s achievements over the past year and its goals for the future, Freshcare Business Manager Jo McCloskey pointed to improvements in customer service, increased participation and a range of new programs including e-learning, an interactive platform owned and developed by Freshcare intended to complement its extensive face-to-face training system.

The feedback to date on e-learning has been positive, McCloskey said.

In keeping with its policy of streamlining and harmonising certification programs, Freshcare is focused on collaboration on training initiatives; on finalising their benchmarking to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI); and to working closely with GLOBALG.A.P. to align Australian standards for export market access. With GLOBALG.A.P.’s Ignacio Antequera among the keynote speakers, the Freshcare Forum gave members of the Australian horticulture industry a valuable opportunity to find out how the partnership with GLOBALG.A.P. might work for exporters.

A number of other key projects in the pipeline for Freshcare

Include the Fair Farms Initiative, the launch of new fertiliser standard developed by the salad producers’ group and the development of a Freshcare standard for the extended supply chain, all initiatives scheduled to be available to industry in late 2017.

A number of underpinning research initiatives were also discussed at the Forum, including the Hort Innovation funded ‘Pathogen Persistence from Paddock to Plate’ and a major collaborative project through Sydney University ‘Food Safety in the Fresh Produce Industry’; research projects that the industry ‘has been waiting for 20 years’, Freshcare General Manager Clare Hamilton-Bate told the Forum.

With master of ceremonies Tristan Kitchener an engaging host, the 2017 forum continued with sessions on:

  • ‘Single use plastics, a bigger issue than climate change?’ – an interactive debate between Tristan Kitchener of Kitchener Partners; Andy Chambers of Seed Consulting; Andrew Monk of Australian Organic; and Brendan Hayes of Coles that analysed consumer habits and highlighted stark differences between the industry in Australia and the UK.
  • Ongoing efforts to stop worker exploitation, including the Fair Farms Initiative, a joint project between Freshcare, Growcom and the Fair Work Ombudsman; and the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association’s StaffSure initiative, a workforce services certification program designed to enable business’ to engage ‘labour hire’ and workforce contracting firms that treat workers well and with integrity; and
  • Opportunities through the proposed partnership between Freshcare and GLOBALG.A.P., both to align Australian food safety standards with those in the global marketplace and to access broader resources through a session entitled ‘GlobalG.A.P. – a world of solutions’.

The forum wound up with a lively ‘open forum’

The open forum provided the opportunity to debate questions sent in by attendees via the Conference App. Most of the sessions had focussed on the market driven need for certification, whilst recognising the burden of compliance generally fell on the grower.  The open forum was a chance for growers to have their say, and some were not happy. ‘One more certification – no thank you,’ was the gist of the complaint.

‘You can sit around and say what growers should do and what they shouldn’t do, but at the end of the day everyone in this room comes at the expense of a grower,’ said one grower. ‘If we don’t make it easier for growers and more cost-effective, and maybe get some government involvement to help with subsidies, not only will I be out of a job, but so will everyone else. I’ve been growing since 1959 and I don’t know whether my son will still be growing in 2059.’

It was a sobering comment – ‘an important reality check’, in the words of Andrew Monk, Chair of Australian Organic, who stressed the need to ‘keep our minds on the real customer, which is the grower’.

‘Value’ versus ‘values’ remained a critical issue –

Would consumers pay more for certification or would they always look for the cheapest price? On the subject of environmental standards, Tristan Kitchener said, ‘We don’t know whether the burning platform is hot enough for consumers to say they are ready to pay for it.’

It was a New Zealander who had the final word in what became a heated debate on the rights and obligations of certifiers, growers and consumers. ‘I was working with an 83-year old farmer,’ she said. ‘He had been growing for 60 years with no compliance systems on farm and now he wanted to sell his mandarins to the supermarket. He didn’t waste time saying “Why do I have to do this? I’ve been growing for 60 years.” He just said, “What do I have to do to sell my product? Tell me and I’ll do it.”’

Not everyone in the room seemed to appreciate the Kiwi farmer’s wisdom, but after an absorbing day looking at the Australian horticulture industry from every angle, it was certainly food for thought.

Article written by Tom Gillings

Other Articles from the Freshcare Forum 2017:

  1. Freshcare Forum – Partnering for Global Assurance in a Global Marketplace
  2. Freshcare Forum Faces up to Environmental Challenges – ‘Single Use Plastics a Bigger Issue than Climate Change’
  3. Freshcare Forum Focuses on Fair Work Compliance
  4. Freshcare Forum Focuses on Food Safety in the Salad Sector