Farmers grill crop monitors
MAREEBA Shire farmers have questioned food safety consultants about the reliability of monitoring processes as they seek to ensure their produce passes health criteria.
Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme (HARPS) held a public information session at the Mareeba Leagues Club on Wednesday to inform growers of the expected changes in the future and to clear up confusion.
Consultation with retailers started in 2012 and HARPS was launched last year.
The information session looked at food safety, legal and trade compliance.
HARPS is an industry initialised scheme developed by the major grocery retailers. It is a risk-based approach to managing food safety issues specific to the horticulture industry.
Their aim is to eliminate multiple audits by harmonising the requirements of the major grocery retailers. They also hope to further develop food safety auditor competency to secure a capable, robust and reliable system.
During the meeting they used this year’s fatal rockmelon listeria outbreak as an example of what can go wrong with food safety.
Mareeba farmer Matthew Fealy attended the meeting and voiced his concerns that HARPS had been working on their scheme for six years yet there was still a major issue with rockmelons.
He said their system didn’t work in that instance and it isn’t ready but it is being pushed on farmers.
Mr Fealy asked HARPS consultant Tristan Kitchener and consultant Belinda Millard how farmers were expected to have confidence that they would get it right in the future.
Mrs Millard said the scheme was not a magic wand and they still had a long way to go.
“We have the retailers (Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, Costco Metcash) aligned,” she said.
“This scheme will cut down duplicate requirements.
“While there are many things we need to get right... we have made some progress.”
Mareeba Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association president Joe Moro said the meeting went well but there needs to be more clarification.
“I think there are still a lot of answers to be given,” he said.
“We will need to engage with growers about the issues.”
He said there was some concerns about duplication f processes and costs.
“There is still not enough clarity. Famers are required to implement the program by January 1, 2019,” he said.
“We are asking for about another year (to get fully organised). I think it is an area where more time might be appropriate. There needs to be more clarity.”