Federal government issues statement on berry imports

Thursday, 26 February, 2015


The federal government has moved to allay community concerns in the wake of the possible link between imported frozen berries and an outbreak of Hepatitis A.

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce and Assistant Minister for Health, Fiona Nash issued a joint statement advising that 100% screening would apply to frozen berries from factories in China linked to the Australian Hepatitis A incident, which have been held pending further testing.

The Ministers confirmed that Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has provided interim advice upgrading the suspect frozen berries to ‘medium risk’. They said comprehensive testing of the berry product in question is being carried out with early results due this week.

The statement advises that Australian officials from the Department of Agriculture are on the ground working with the Chinese authorities on this matter and that the Department of Agriculture has also sought information on supply chains from all importers of frozen berries from China.

The Chinese Government has carried out initial inspections of the packing facility implicated in the outbreak and has taken swabs for microbiological testing. Additionally, FSANZ will continue its broader scientific assessment of the risk status of frozen berries from around the globe, an assessment which is expected to take some weeks.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has advised that an estimated 1% infection rate for people eating these berries is a very conservative upper limit, which could be revised downwards once all data has been examined. Previous outbreaks of hepatitis A have shown that around 30% of adults infected may not show symptoms at all and this is higher in children.

According to the statement, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service has now advised that people who have eaten the berries can continue to give blood so long as they are not sick.

The statement follows claims from the Australian Greens that 29 importers are still delivering berries from China.

Senator Rachel Siewert, Greens spokesperson for agriculture, said, “It has been revealed that FSANZ have not been over to China to check on the conditions of any of the factories that have processed these berries before they are sent to Australia.”

According to Senator Siewert, only 5% of imported products are undergoing checks at our borders.

“We have an ineffective biosecurity regulation system that is hurting Australians. FSANZ is not doing enough to stymie further contamination,” she said.

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