Editor’s Note: G’day, mates! With this issue, we launch our year-long series, Around the World with Food Quality & Safety. Contributing author Linda L. Leake will be showcasing the latest food safety, quality, and regulatory issues on each continent and how they are being dealt with, so as to protect local citizens and also to be compliant with the needs and directives of the U.S. Right now we will be making like a kangaroo and hopping down to Australia for the first installment of our sure to be enlightening tour.
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Ask Australians to share some of their favorite foods and they are quick to mention hamburgers with beetroot, crab sticks, barbequed snags, pavlova, lamingtons, and Vegemite on toast, just to start the list.
These unique local lip-smacking goodies and the many other tasty foods produced on the continent of Australia are the fruits of a highly developed food production and food safety system that extends from farm to fork.
To be sure, the food industry is a significant part of the Australian economy.
Fifteen percent of the Australian workforce is involved in food production, according to the Australian Department of Agriculture (DoA). Some AU$30.5 billion (as of Oct. 31, 2014, 1 AU$ equals .88 US$) worth of food is exported annually, while Australia produces enough to feed the country twice over. Food creation is the biggest employer in rural and regional communities.
“Australia is largely self-sufficient in food production, with around 93 percent of food consumed in Australia by retail value produced domestically,” says Kari Gobius, PhD, research group leader for food safety & stability for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency. CSIRO is touted as one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.
“While Australian farmers produce just one percent of the world’s food, Australia is the source for almost three percent of the food traded worldwide,” Dr. Gobius says. “These food exports from Australia feed over 60 million people every day.”
The food and grocery product industry is Australia’s largest manufacturing sector, accounting for 27.5 percent of the country’s manufacturing turnover, according to the Australian Food and Grocer Council, the national organization representing Australia’s packaged food, drink, and grocery products manufacturers.
Woolworths Limited is the largest retail company in Australia (and New Zealand) by market capitalization and sales, and the largest food retailer in Australia (and the second largest in New Zealand). In addition, Woolworths Limited is the largest takeaway liquor retailer in Australia.
Woolworths and rival Coles Supermarkets, which operates stores throughout Australia and employs more than 100,000 people, account for 80 percent of the Australian supermarket market.
Food Regulation Policy
The DoA Food Regulation Policy Section works with industry and other Australian government agencies, particularly the Department of Health and Aging (DoHA) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), to ensure Australia’s food regulations protect public health and safety, according to Scott Crerar, PhD, manager of FSANZ’s Strategic Science, International and Surveillance Section.
The DoA contributes to policies designed to minimize regulatory costs to industry, encourage innovation, and align domestic and international food standards. What’s more, the DoA encourages industry and community to participate in developing food regulatory policy and food standards.
“Australia’s food policy framework is determined by the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation,” Dr. Crerar says. “The Forum is made up of minsters from health and agriculture departments representing the states and territories, as well as the Australian and New Zealand governments. And the Forum is involved in developing food regulatory policy and policy guidelines that must be considered when setting food standards for Australia, which reflect these policies.”