AFSA and the Victorian Farmers Markets Association have today released a joint public statement, calling on the Victorian Government to work with AFSA, VFMA and small producers to engage in open and constructive discussions about how to support the rapidly emerging local and fair food economy in Victoria.
Public statement – Cancellation of Regulator-Producer Forum
18TH FEBRUARY 2015
Regulatory costs and compliance have a major impact on the viability of all producers and food businesses. The need to ensure the flexibility to innovate is recognised by the Inquiry into the impact of food regulation on farms and other businesses (2013). In the same document the Victorian Government emphasises the value it places on the contributions of producers in policy-making.
Accordingly, the cancellation of the public multi-stakeholder discussion forum on regulation at Monash University on February 24 is a serious blow to public engagement and transparency.
This event, hosted by Monash University Law Faculty and co-sponsored by AFSA and the Victorian Farmers Markets Association (VFMA), was to be a landmark forum addressing the regulatory challenges in enabling the production and provision of safe, transparent, innovative, fair and local food in Victoria. Producers, regulators, industry representatives and certification agencies were invited to participate in two panels addressing the challenges and opportunities of ensuring safety and transparency in small scale food production and retailing.
The aim of this ground-breaking day was to generate a productive dialogue around the potential and opportunities for improving food regulation to build consumer confidence in and access to fair local food. This dialogue is essential to the co-creation of an effective, coherent and evidence-based regulatory environment that enables a strong and thriving local and fair food economy.
Shortly before the forum was due to take place, AFSA and the VFMA were informed that it was being cancelled, and replaced with a closed invite-only workshop focused just on food labeling issues. AFSA and the VFMA are deeply disappointed that a unique opportunity for a constructive and productive dialogue between regulators and producers has been lost. Many producers were excited by the opportunity for this dialogue and were prepared to travel long distances, at their own time and expense, to take part in it.
We believe it is the public duty of these regulators to engage in open and constructive dialogue with producers. As publicly-funded agencies with significant enforcement powers conferred by legislation, we are concerned that this last-minute cancellation of a public event demonstrates disregard for public accountability and openness to scrutiny.
Further, we believe this stance to be inconsistent with the publicly-stated values and missions of each regulator. Dairy Food Safety Victoria states its values as follows (emphasis added):
We value diverse opinions, strengths and ideas, and consider the feelings of others.
We are honest, open and transparent in our dealings with all stakeholders and will match our behaviours to our words
We are always willing to help stakeholders and each other and strive to continually improve the way we work whilst remaining adaptable and open to change
We are fair, objective and courteous in all dealings with industry, stakeholders and our employees
The mission of Prime Safe is (emphasis added):
To regulate and advance food safety in the Victorian meat, poultry and seafood industries through a credible, effective and efficient quality assurance system that facilitates opportunities for industry growth and innovation
Despite the opportunity lost with the cancellation of the forum, AFSA and the VFMA will continue our efforts to engage regulators in a constructive dialogue of how they might work within the existing regulatory framework to best support and enable the producers and communities who are building local, transparent and fair food systems.
At the same time, accumulated experience from many producers does, in our view, make a powerful case of the need for a simplified and coherent regulatory framework that enables the emerging local and fair food system to flourish. Anecdotal evidence from many producers reveals that such costs and compliance, and at times heavy-handed enforcement, has a crushing and at times terminal effect on viability.
A case in point is the summary closure of the Giles Family Abattoir in Trafalgar, Gippsland, at the end of 2012, after images of a pig escaping on the slaughterhouse floor were passed by Animals Australia to PrimeSafe. The business employed 30 locals and contributed $7 mn to the local economy, yet its licence was cancelled in a manner that owner Colin Giles felt was most unfair:
Colin Giles says that PrimeSafe's [Deputy Chief Brendan] Ryan told him at the Melbourne meeting that it was an "open-and-shut case" of cruelty and that he was cancelling their abattoir licence permanently. They were also warned that any animal cruelty charges, if proven, could carry a jail sentence.
"Then PrimeSafe told us that if we surrendered our licence to them that afternoon, there would be no further investigation," Giles recalled this week.
"And then they asked us what we thought. But I don't think we said much at all. We were devastated, dumbfounded -- we certainly felt like we were being forced to hand our licence in."
We call on the Victorian government to ensure that food safety regulators are held accountable to the Victorian public as a whole, and in particular the industries they are established to regulate and support.
We also call on the Victorian government to work with stakeholders across the food system to understand the need for regulatory reform and explore options for the most suitable and effective way this can be achieved. Such reforms must be guided by the need to balance the principles of:
- Ensuring public safety
- Supporting a thriving and diverse local and fair food economy
Promoting open consultation
- Enhancing transparency and accountability
- Building food literacy and guaranteeing the public’s right to know
* * * *
For comment / interviews, contact Tammi Jonas, AFSA President, M: 0422 429 362 / Wayne Shields, VFMA President, M: 0400 643 341
About the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance
AFSA is a national alliance of farmers, food entrepreneurs, public health professionals, community gardeners, farmers market coordinators, journalists, researchers and local food advocates who share the vision of a fair food future for all Australians. AFSA draws inspiration from and is founded on the principles of food sovereignty.
Founded in 2010, AFSA has provided national vision and leadership through collaboratively creating Australia's first Peoples Food Plan, and in coordinating Australia's first Fair Food Week. In 2015 AFSA is launching Australia's first Fair Food feature documentary, which tells the stories of Australian farmers, social entrepreneurs, and urban agriculturalists who are transforming Australia's food future.
About the Victorian Farmers Markets Association
The Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association (VFMA) is a not for profit organisation, founded in 2002, that supports and promotes authentic farmers’ markets throughout Victoria by:
a) Representing members on a range of industry issues.
b) Providing a central information point for shoppers and industry alike. We support 40 accredited farmers markets around Victoria.
The VFMA represents myriad types of Victorian farmers and food producers who trade at our accredited markets. VFMA accreditation aims to ensure our farmers’ market customers are buying what they expect, with genuine informed choice, as well as providing a fair environment for local small-medium scale food growers and producers to prosper. The VFMA accredited farmers’ markets provide a reliable benchmark distinct from non-accredited markets - primarily no middle men/re-selling – only the genuine growers and their production staff, reconnecting people with their food sources and producers with their consumers.
The VFMA and our stakeholders share the vision of a fair food future for all, from farmers and along the food production chain to consumers. The VFMA has collaboratively consulted with AFSA regarding Australia's first Peoples Food Plan, and in promoting Australia's Fair Food Week.
 Reproduced from the 22 March 2012 Australian story by Rural Reporter Sue Neales – for the full story see http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/piggy-in-the-middle/story-e6frg6z6-1226306631801.
To read the full statement, follow this link