Fruit growers take issue with high cost of QA

28 Jun, 2000 11:07 AM

WA stonefruit growers have come to loggerheads with SQF Australia's Safe Quality Food Program, fiercely protesting its direction and the way it is being implemented. Run through Agwest Trade and Development, the SQF 2000 program (according to grower understanding) was designed to back up grower credibility by certifying their produce as free from chemical, bacterial and mechanical contamination. But gowers now believe it has changed its focus to total farm management, incorporating extra managerial factors such as WorkSafe and environmental issues. They say the extra regulations add further costs to the already high price of SQF accreditation, but produce few advantages. Following a grower meeting this month, Perth Hills Growers have sent out a strong message to the industry to oppose the current system until there is more grower input and SQF officials pay attention to what growers are saying. The Perth Hills growers believe none of this would have happened if Agwest had involved growers in the beginning. They claim SQF 2000 has had little or no input from grower groups since its enception, and those growers who did attend meetings when guidelines were formed maintain that the agenda had already been set and they were railroaded into agreement. Without SQF accreditation, many growers would not be able to access the retail market, which accounts for 80 per cent of summer fruit sold in WA. SQF accreditation is demanded by retail chains, despite their refusal to take on the same quality assurance systems in their stores. Growers see SQF 2000 as unworkable but partially blame themselves for living in silence for so long. In a letter to SQF Australia manager Christine Kershaw, the Perth Hills grower meeting asked for a code of practice to be put in place, with professionalism and conduct that would be written and managed by the farmers, for the farmers. The letter said the growers weren't against a quality system, but wanted a simple, inexpensive and easy run program. It said the SQF program so far had failed them, looked as if it was designed to boost a certification industry at the expense of the grower and warned that, if the SQF team did not change its way of thinking and involve the growers, quality assurance would fail. Agriculture WA horticulture SQF co-ordinator David Jefferies has the challenge of restoring grower confidence in the program and admitted growers hadn't had any input into the present SQF system. But while they didn't have input into the broad-based generic program, growers should have control over their own Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan. Mr Jefferies said growers are given a protocol to follow, as a guideline, and from there they made their own HACCP plan to reflect what they did on their farm. "Some growers have the perception that SQF is an off-the-shelf program ‹ that couldn't be further from the truth," Mr Jefferies said. "It is easier to say what will happen in the future than to try to figure out what was said in the past." Mr Jefferies said lack of grower education could very well be the problem and he wanted to get things sorted out so he was encouraging all growers concerned to attend the three-day HACCP course (costing $440). He also said a half-day workshop would be held this week so he could address all growers' problems.


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