New laws set to be introduced in Australia will mean that any death or illness caused in a food-related incident will no longer be required to be reported to authorities by the food business responsible.
Rather than all parties involved in the making and selling of the food product being required by law to report any food-related case, it will solely be left up to health authorities.
In the past, any food business that was involved in the supply chain of the food product causing the illness had a legal responsibility to report it to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Whether they were the factory that made the food, the kitchen that cooked with the food or a retail store that sold the food, they were required by law to report any illnesses or deaths to their industry watchdog.
The Government’s Position
Liberal Minister for Small Business, Bruce Billson, is the politician responsible for introducing the bill to Parliament. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he said, "Both the ACCC and Australian food safety regulators consider [the reports made by food businesses] to be of no added value in regulating the safety of food products.”
Minister Billson also said that a contributing factor in creating the bill was because “the food industry has informed the Government that this requirement places a disproportionate cost on industry."
Although those in the food industry might consider the compulsory reporting laws place an unnecessary burden on businesses, not everyone concerned is happy with the new laws.
What Public Health Officials are Saying
The Public Health Association of Australia’s chief executive Michael Moore is reported to have said that, "having a double check process in place makes good sense. The idea that a manufacturer won't report a death related to their food or illness [to the ACCC] seems appalling to me."
Once these laws have been implemented, the full responsibility of reporting to the ACCC will fall to hospitals and doctors. This brings with it the issue that even if someone in the food industry was aware that their product was responsible for causing a consumer harm, they would have no legal obligation to report it and it would be left up to their individual morals.
One supporter of the new changes is the Australian Food and Grocery Council. Chief executive Gary Dawson said, ‘mandatory reporting arrangements to the ACCC does not prevent harm, but has generated thousands of false alarms that have resulted in not one actual product recall,’ according to the SMH.
Will these New Laws Cause More Harm than Good?
According to the ACCC, mandatory reporting must be made within two days of the food-related incident. When the health authorities become the sole party responsible for reporting the incidents, it could mean a much longer delay in the report being made. Also, there is a possibility that the incident might not be linked to a food product and therefore not reported at all.
The consequences to consumers who still buy the affected product could be disastrous. If Patties Foods, the company responsible for the frozen berries that caused the Hepatitis A outbreak earlier this year, were not legally required to report the serious food safety breach, it is unclear how long it might have taken for authorities to become aware that the berries were actually responsible for the outbreak.