Blog: Katy AskewThai tuna scare puts Australian food safety back in spotlight

Katy Askew | 11 March 2015

Food safety in Australia has rapidly become a politicised issue after two recent scares – involving berries packaged in China and, most recently, tuna canned in Thailand – both of which have brought the safety of food produced overseas into question.

Australian pie-to-frozen food group, Patties Foods, was the first company to hit the headlines when its Nanna's frozen mixed berries – which were packed in China – were linked to an outbreak of hepatitis A last month. The scare prompted the Australian government to suggest it is mulling the introduction of country of origin labelling.

Foreign-produced food made its way back into the public eye this week after tuna canned in Thailand was linked to histamine poisoning, which occurs when fish is not stored at the correct temperature. According to the New South Wales Food Authority, the problem has been linked to a batch of John Bull Tuna Chunky Style in Sunflower Oil. The tuna is a product of Thailand imported into Australia by a Victorian company, the watchdog said.

Speaking on Australian radio today (11 March), Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted that countries who want to import food to Australia must ensure the safety of their goods. "We certainly don’t want anything which is unsafe or unhygienic being sold in our country. Now, I imagine that there are standards in Thailand and indeed in China which, in the case of this tuna and earlier in the case of those berries, weren’t being enforced. So, what we’ve really got to do is make sure that in all of the countries where we are sourcing our food that proper standards are enforced and that’s what I’m determined to do," the Prime Minister insisted.

The fresh scandal comes at a time when Abbott's overseas reputation is taking a battering. This week protesters in Indonesia reportedly trampled a poster of the PM outside the Australian embassy over pleas for clemency for the Bali Nine drug smugglers. Meanwhile the UN has accused Australia of systematically violating torture conventions through its migration policy.

In an atmosphere of heightened international tensions between Australia and its neighbours, could the country respond to these safety scares by stepping up regulation of imported foods or introducing new labelling requirements?  

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