26 Dec Making News This Week
Culinary cult hero Peter Russell-Clarke could soon be a regular face in the region, having pledged his support for the Goulburn Valley-based Australian Grown Food Company. Mr Russell-Clarke is best known for his five-minute cooking program Come And Get It, which aired close to 900 times on the ABC during the 1980s. He also has extensive behind-thescenes experience in the food industry, having been the creative force behind marketing campaigns (as well as being the on-air figure) for Australian Dairy Corporation, Australian Egg Board, Kraft Cheese and others. He is currently working on a marketing campaign with Queensland farmers growing new varieties of fruit and says he is passionate about supporting Australian produce.
‘‘Of course; they’re your bloody neighbours trying to make a quid,’’ Mr Russell-Clarke said. ‘‘You’ve read the press. We’re importing food from China and yet we’re pulling out orange trees and the like all over the place. It’s just silly stuff. I’ve only concerned myself with marketing Australian products from Australian farms.’’ The Australian Grown Food Company is the formal name for the community food co-operative planned for the Goulburn Valley by concerned citizens.
The Goulburn Valley Food Action Committee has been driving the plan, created in response to Heinz’s announcement that it would abandon its tomato processing operation in Girgarre in favour of one in New Zealand. The departure will leave 146 people out work and growers without a buyer, and could have further negative flow-on consequences for the town and surrounds.
Mr Russell-Clarke, who has lived at Tooborac (near Heathcote) for the past several years, has been following the issue closely.
‘‘I just thought ‘bugger me dead, the poor buggers’. I tend to think the governments, whether they’re federal or state or Liberal or Labor, tend to forget people in areas like Shepparton or Girgarre,’’ he said. ‘‘I might not be able to help, but I’ve had many years of marketing fruit and vegetables so if I can help them in any way, I will.’’
GVFAC interim chairman Les Cameron was thrilled when told Mr Russell-Clarke wanted to assist.
New Zealand rebuts Free Trade Agreement loophole allegation
The New Zealand Food & Grocery Council (FGC) has strongly rebutted an allegation that vegetables from China have been entering Australia via New Zealand without being labelled as of Chinese origins.
A report televised on 19 September 2011, by Australia’s Today Tonight show on the Chanel 7 network, had claimed that a loophole in an international trade agreement was allowing Chinese vegetables to enter Australian supermarkets while avoiding chemical testing. The report alleged that New Zealand was being used as the back door into Australia, for vegetables with chemicals banned in other countries being allowed in.
The allegation claimed that the Australian importers were able to do this by virtue of the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Agreement (TTMRA). The TTMRA is the name of the Free Trade Agreement between New Zealand and Australia.
Today, the Chief Executive of the New Zealand FGC, Katherine Rich, told Australian Food News, “This is the worst case of sensationalist scaremongering claptrap I’ve seen in a while. New Zealand has very rigorous food safety laws as does Australia. Our members carry out stringent audits on all their suppliers to make sure their vegetables are of the highest quality.
“The Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Agreement is something that works well for both our countries. It’s an opportunity for Australia and New Zealand as close trading partners, not a loophole.”
The Today Tonight report stated that an Australian accredited lab had chemically tested eighteen bags of frozen vegetables from McCains, Heinz and Birdseye, plus Coles and Woolworths home brands. The report also stated that most of these frozen vegetables were imported from China or New Zealand, with only a few being Australian home-grown. According to the Today Tonight report, some of the vegetables contained chemicals that are banned in Australia.
According to New Zealand FGC’s Chief Executive Katie Rich, “The products mentioned in the report are safe. These are products of responsible, respected companies with a deep dedication to consumer safety. Claims that New Zealand products are unsafe are completely hysterical.
“Listing out the chemicals in such an ominous way that the report does is designed to shock. It’s exactly like horrifying someone by telling them that there is arsenic in their glass of water, but not mentioning that there is only a tiny trace in tap water in such a small amount that it can’t possibly have an effect on them,” she said.
Cherry growers are hopeful they’ll gain access to the lucrative Chinese market by the end of the year. Authorities in Australia and China are negotiating biosecurity protocols, which are expected to be finalised in the coming months. Scott Coupland, president of the NSW Cherry Growers Association, says it’s been worth the wait.
“We’re really trying to develop business and develop contacts to gain access,” he said. “Once again at the Asian Fruit Logistica, that was probably the most inquiries we really had over there was from mainland China, looking for opportunities to import Australian cherries.”