Australia: Small producers start legal fund to fight food safety authorities

Small producers start legal fund to fight food safety authorities

ABC Rural

By Warwick Long

Week of August 3rd, 2015

Photo: A farmer selling produce at a small retail outlet. Farmers say they have been forced to start a legal fund to fight authorities overstepping their regulatory powers. (ABC News)

Farmers selling food at their farm gate say they have been forced to start a legal fund to protect themselves from government authorities.

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Audio: Tammi Jonas on the plan for a legal fund to fight food regulators. (ABC Rural)

Two groups, the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance and Regrarians Australia, are planning to launch a new legal hotline to give farmers immediate advice when it is needed.

They say farmers wanting to sell meat or dairy products from small farm stores are being unfairly restricted by governments misinterpreting the law.

Tammi Jonas, president of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, says the fund will help producers as similar programs do overseas.

"In America, they have one called the ‘farm to consumer legal defence fund’, and what that fund does largely is provide a 24/7 hotline for farmers and consumers," she said.

"They ring up and get advice when they’re not sure what to do, especially in the case where a regulator rolls up their driveway and tries to destroy their meat or their eggs or, in the case of raw milk, the milk."

She believed that regulators, like meat regulator PrimeSafe in Victoria, were overstepping their boundaries and becoming a hindrance to producers selling their produce on the farm.

A number of lawyers and legal workers have already offered their expertise to assist with the hotline.

PrimeSafe Victoria released a statement defending its treatment of small-scale farmers and its control of food safety in the state.

"Victoria has a international reputation as a leading food producer that is based on food safety, which underpins consumer confidence in the food we eat, and the overall economy," PrimeSafe Victoria said.

"It is everyone’s interest that food safety and consumer confidence is maintained, and everyone has a responsibility for ensuring that our food is safe to eat.

"PrimeSafe fully supports innovation and growth of meat and seafood businesses.

"PrimeSafe has issued guidance material in areas where there is an apparent lack of understanding about requirements of the Australian food safety standards, or where management of high risk activities is inconsistent.

"PrimeSafe does not comment on operational regulatory activities, or individual licensees. However, businesses that comply with Australian food safety standards have nothing to fear from PrimeSafe.

"Anyone that needs assistance with understanding food safety requirements in the meat and seafood sectors should contact PrimeSafe’s Information and Support function."

There are plans to have the hotline for producers fully operational by the end of the year, but already producers are starting to help each other.

"We’re fledgling, we’ve just begun," Ms Jonas said.