A FUNGICIDE trace five times the maximum residue limit (MRL) in an Australian barley sample, which triggered a food products recall in Japan, has been described as a “reminder” to the local grain industry of its responsibility.
Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA) chief executive officer Larissa Taylor said it was “a reminder of how consumer confidence, market access and chemical residue stewardship is everyone’s responsibility along our grain supply chain”.
In an update sent to GIWA members, Ms Taylor said ITOCHU Australia Ltd, the local subsidiary which sent the barley to its parent company, ITOCHU Corporation in Japan, had confirmed there was no WA-sourced barley in the suspect shipment last August.
She said ITOCHU Australia had also indicated it was “unlikely” WA barley would be affected by investigations launched in Australia and Japan to try to establish why a higher-than-allowed trace of azoxystrobin was discovered during last month’s testing of a retained sample.
But in Japan, public statements by ITOCHU Corporation and a customer company involved in product recalls, did not differentiate and blamed “Australian barley”.
A press release issued by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) also claimed the problem was with “Australian barley”.
Azoxystrobin is a fungicide marketed under at least four brand names for use on a range of cereal, fruit and vegetable crops.
It is considered of low acute and chronic toxicity to humans and most animals, but is highly toxic to freshwater fish if it gets into dams, creeks or lakes.
It is widely used on cereal crops to provide protection against leaf spots, rusts and powdery mildew – the main foliar diseases which attack barley.
Ms Taylor said it appeared the contaminated sample came from an 85-tonne shipment of Barleymax variety from the 2016-17 season, grown in New South Wales, trucked to Victoria and stored, cleaned and exported from Victoria.
“ITOCHU Australia is working with the National Residue Survey and Grain Trade Australia to address market access implications but they view this as an isolated incident and not reflective of the quality of Australian barley,” Ms Taylor said.
In Japan, the MAFF has given ITOCHU Corporation until April 26, 2018, to investigate and report on the breach, she said.
Ms Taylor thanked ITOCHU Australia, which has offices in Perth, Sydney and Brisbane, for “timely communications and stakeholder engagement” since its parent company went public on April 3 with the higher than MRL azoxystrobin discovery, notified authorities and its barley customers which launched product recalls.
The ITOCHU Corporation is a general import-export trading conglomerate with business units dealing in foodstuffs, textiles, machinery, metals, minerals, energy, chemicals, realty, information and communications technology, finance and business investment.
On its website it claims to have about 120 “bases” in 63 countries.
A statement on the website said testing of a retained sample of “Australian barley” had shown a trace amount of 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of azoxystrobin when the trace standard stipulated by the Food Sanitation Act is 0.5mg/kg.
The barley was supplied to Nishida Barley Processing Co Ltd under a three-way agreement concluded between importer, purchaser and the Japanese government only a month before the suspect shipment, it said.
“While the detected amount of azoxystrobin determined through this testing does not pose a danger to health, ITOCHU expressed its deepest apologies for the considerable concern and inconvenience it has caused consumers and its business partners,” its website said.
“Moving forward, ITOCHU will work with customers and its other business partners to ascertain the situation regarding the affected barley and any products processed with the barley.
“We will also take appropriate action in accordance with law upon consultation with the relevant health departments, work to investigate the cause of this incident and prevent a repeat occurrence and will make utmost efforts to further reinforce our food safety management systems,” ITOCHU said.
Its barley customer Nishida indicated on its website that product made with the contaminated barley had a use-by date of February 18, 2019 and could be returned to the factory at the company’s expense.
Nishida produces a barley mash used to make alcoholic beverages including Shochu, one of two national Japanese drinks, and Miso, a paste that is an essential element of many Japanese recipes.
It also sells processed barley in a range of food products marketed as having high-fibre and particularly beneficial in children’s diets, as well as barley for stock feed, primarily for cattle.
WA’s major cereals exporter CBH Group confirmed the problem barley was not sourced from its WA supply chain.
“The CBH Group has rigorous controls in place to protect the reputation of WA grain growers and to assure our customers that WA grain is safe and within their specifications,” said CBH general manager operations David Capper.
“CBH’s shipments to our Japanese customers have not been impacted by this event.”
All grain delivered to CBH must comply with State and Federal legislation and not contain chemical residues in excess of Australian MRLs, Mr Capper said.
He said CBH introduced a “three-strike approach” last year that applies to loads that were found to be above Australian MRL levels.
p More information: cbh.com.au/harvest-information/maximum-residue-limits