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Freshcare Forum – Partnering for Global Assurance in a Global Marketplace

August 30, 2017

 ‘Harmonisation’ was the buzzword at the 2017 Freshcare Forum in Sydney.

Lessons from the Australian domestic market extended into a thought provoking session with a strong global outlook.

Belinda Millard, GLOBALG.A.P.’s Key Account Manager – Oceania, drew on her experience as a project member of HARPS (Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme) to co-present with Freshcare’s General Manager, Clare Hamilton-Bate and Citrus Australia’s David Daniels, in an engaging and interactive session.

Five years ago Horticulture Australia Ltd began a project to harmonise food safety certification requirements for the major retailers in Australia, Millard explained. The adoption of HARPS meant that individual suppliers no longer had to comply with a plethora of food safety systems when dealing with multiple retail customers.

With HARPS, Australia’s five major food retailers are finally heading in the same direction, at least regarding food safety. But where does that leave suppliers wanting to take advantage of export opportunities in Asia and elsewhere?

‘We are sitting on a precipice,’ Hamilton-Bate told the forum. ‘The number of different regulations and compliance schemes in overseas markets means there is scope for great confusion.’

She went on to list examples of different pathways to and drivers for food safety compliance, among them ASEAN GAP and associated local market systems; GFSI’s global markets program; and the US Food Safety Modernisation Act.

‘As things stand,’ Hamilton-Bate told the forum, ‘there is no single entity that can fit across all jurisdictions. We have come a long way in harmonising standards within Australia, imagine if we could facilitate that process across international markets.’

No sector is more alert to the vagaries of foreign markets than Australia’s booming citrus industry. David Daniels, the market access manager for Citrus Australia, gave the forum audience a snapshot of a dynamic industry: 1,500 growers cultivating 25,000 hectares for an annual production of between 700,000 and 750, 000 tonnes, of which a third is exported, a third used for domestic (fresh) consumption and a third for processing as juice. In production terms, navel oranges come out on top, followed by juicing oranges and then the fast-growing mandarin market.

While juicing oranges remain big business, Daniels said the sector was declining, while exports (especially navels) were conservatively estimated to grow by 5 per cent this year. ‘After a few difficult years with drought, flood and exchange rates, we’ve had a couple of sensational years,’ Daniels told the forum. ‘Last year was the best on record.’

With exports a large and growing market, Australian citrus growers know they have to stay on top of international food safety standards. Australian citrus is exported to more than 50 countries and attracts a high premium, with our oranges renowned for their excellent colour (‘the best in the world,’ Daniels insisted) and sweetness; their clean, green image and their reputation for safety.

The latter is particularly useful in China, where Daniels said consumers ‘have no confidence in their own food supply’ due to incidents such as the contamination of infant formula with melamine, not to mention hair-raising tales of exploding water melons (caused by the use of growth accelerator) and the sale of 40-year-old frozen meat.

But while the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia all recognise each other’s food safety requirements, the same is not true of some Asian countries – including important markets such as China and Indonesia. Regulatory hurdles to get over include quarantine (eg. pest and disease controls); food safety (managing MRLs and other hazards); non-technical barriers (eg. quotas, tariffs and embargoes); and technical specifications (eg. packaging and labelling requirements).

The citrus industry, Daniels told the forum, worked hard to keep up with the constantly shifting landscape of international food certification, where (as in Australia) future pressure could come from regulators, retailers or both.  While the industry looked forward to a future in which international standards were harmonised, that future was some way off.

On the all-important subject of MRLs, Daniels said that Citrus Australia runs a residue testing program in partnership with the Australian Government. We use a government accredited laboratory where we regularly send spiked samples ‘to make sure they are competent in detecting what they are supposed to. A rigorous, government-backed pesticide residue monitoring program was just one of the initiatives used to ensure the integrity of Australian citrus.

As the Asian supermarket sector became more sophisticated, Daniels said it was likely that food safety demands would become more rigorous. Government backed research and globally benchmarked standards based on good science put Australian citrus in a strong position to take advantage of overseas markets.

Article written by Tom Gillings

Other Articles from the Freshcare Forum 2017:

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