THE frozen berry health scare has exposed a rift between Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Prime Minister Tony Abbott over food labelling rules.
Mr Joyce has called for tighter food labelling laws after confirmation of cases of Hepatitis A linked to berries packaged in China.
But Mr Abbott resists any change because it would create red tape and drive up supermarket prices. "The bottom line is that companies shouldn't be poisoning their customers," he told ABC Radio.
Victorian distributor Patties Foods has recalled one kilogram packets of Nanna's frozen berries and 300-gram and 500g packs of Creative Gourmet mixed berries.
Health authorities have confirmed Hepatitis A cases in four States and they expect that number to rise. Contamination has been linked to poor hygiene and water supplies in a Chinese packaging plant.
Farmers' groups want stricter requirements for imported products to be clearly labelled with their country of origin. Labels like "Made in Australia from local and imported products" are a long-running point of contention.
Mr Joyce said health ministers were considering an import review and an increase in the level of food screening.
He said labels should clearly identify "unambiguously, as soon as you pick up a package, whether it is from our country with our strong ... sanitary requirements".
"That is making sure that faecal contamination, which is a very polite word for poo, is not anywhere near your food (and) not going to be put in your mouth," Mr Joyce told the Nine Network on Wednesday. In the meantime, the best way to stay safe was to eat Australian-made products, he added.
But Mr Abbott does not support changes to food labelling laws.
"It's always got to be a question of getting the balance right because every time we demand more regulation, every time we demand different types of labelling, we add to the costs and the consumer has to pay," he said.
Legislation requiring clearer labelling, including removing the all-encompassing "made in" label, is already before the federal parliament.
Greens Leader Christine Milne last week introduced a bill that would require products to state where they are grown, manufactured and packaged. A "product of" or "grown in" label would be used to describe food wholly grown and processed in a country.
Labels carrying the words 'manufactured in' would be required for products that had been substantially transformed in a particular country.
"Packaged in" would be used for products that have been highly processed in, or include ingredients from, many countries.
"Everyone from farmers to consumer groups and even the Coalition's Minister for Agriculture have been calling for this, so it's time to put words into action," Senator Milne said.