Imported Food

Reporter: Frank Pangallo

As we are about to reveal, our two biggest supermarket chains -- Coles and Woolies - seem to be lacking in the quality-control department, as they slug it out for your grocery dollar, with a flood of cheap imported foods.

"There are chemicals there that are banned in Australia. There is a zero limit, some are six and eight times above that limit -- they should never be there. It means the checks and balances are not in place", said agricultural scientist, Bryan McLeod.

We will shortly reveal the bombshell results of our comprehensive tests for chemicals and nutritional value, in fresh and frozen produce. Much of it has been imported from all parts of the globe and also in the mix, fresh organic fruit and vegetables. "What we see is that imported fruit and vegetable are not subject to same criteria of testing as local growers. Imported products need to be tested, not only for chemicals, but tested for nutritional value because that is dictating the health of the Australian consumer", Bryan said.

Internationally respected, Bryan supervised our tests and is challenging the food industry to list in detail the nutritional values in what we eat. "We tend to hear mostly talked about is protein, but there's all the minerals - calcium, magnesium; all trace elements -- copper, manganese, zinc, iron, boron, they all play an important role in our body's nutrition", Bryan said.

It might shock you to learn many of the vegetables we eat today contain 30% less nutrition than they did 30 years ago -- enough alone to be making us sick. "It is the responsibility of the food industry to present good nutritional food, not just based on protein but all the essential elements. All those essential elements should be in our food at the right levels and should be listing those mineral analysis with each batch of fruit and veg for sale", Bryan said.

Sadly there's a reason very little nutritional information appears on our food labels. "Do they do enough testing? I don't believe they do any testing as far as nutrition goes. I know they do chemical testing, but I am sure they don't do nutritional testing", Bryan said.

We did -- from Coles we randomly bought onions and lemons from the US; Chinese Ya Pears and garlic; along with Coles Smart Buy imported frozen beans, vegetable mix and corn.

From Woolies Fresh imported capsicum and garlic; frozen imported items like Birdseye Golden Crunch Chips; Select green beans; Select cauliflower and broccoli mix; Home Brand chips, corn, beans and mixed vegetables.

We also gave Bryan samples of recently imported cheap Chinese apples and from an organic greengrocer, locally grown fresh beans, capsicum, broccoli, garlic, sweet corn and lemons.

Bryan's lab staff chopped them up, put it all into driers, then ground the material into powder form where it was analysed in high-tech equipment for mineral content. Samples were also sent to the accredited national measuring institute labs in Victoria to test for chemical residues.

"I've got nothing against import fruit and veg as long as it's an even playing field. What we see is that imported fruit and vegetable are not subject to same criteria of testing as local growers", said Independent Senator, Nick Xenephon.

Local farmers are required to do testing for up to 60 different chemicals, whereas the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service - AQUIS - randomly screens randomly for 49 and that's not good enough Senator Xenophon says.

"We need decent labelling laws in this country, including nutritional value. Some of this rubbish coming, you'd be better off eating cardboard -- at least get some fibre with it", Senator Xenephon added.

Now to our findings -- first those Chinese apples: no chemicals but nutritionally quite poor. "On opening the apples they had symptoms of bitipid, which is a calcium deficiency, browning spots under the skin", Bryan said.

Shocks with our basket of fresh organic produce -- we found chemicals where there shouldn't be any, three of the samples - beans, broccoli and lemons -

included the insecticide imidacloprid, which is banned in food here", Bryan said.

"The perception on organics is basically looking at lack of chemicals -- no chemicals in organic foods, and higher nutrition. In half the foods we tested, organic foods, they were contaminated with chemicals and were of much poorer nutrition. Those areas need to be looked at seriously", Bryan said.

From Woolies even more shocks. The Select beans from Belgium had high levels of the fungicides cyprodinil and thiabendazole -- it should be zero; in Home Brand corn from Thailand, more than six times the allowable level for the insecticide methidathion; and the Birdseye golden crunch chips, a high level of insecticide chlorpyrifos -- it should be zero.

The rest were clear. "You wouldn't be able to wash them off because they are in the actual tissue and a lot are cumulative. You don't flush them out of your body, you accumulate them, so after you've eaten them over a number of years, they can have repercussions on your health", Bryan said.

Finally our most disturbing results: Coles, in their Chinese Ya Pears and white onions from the US was the insecticide imidacloprid -- it shouldn't be there. It was also in their Smart Buy beans from China, along with another banned fungicide, myclobutanil. In the Smart Buy corn from China, high levels of the organochlorine endosulphan, an endocruine disruptor which, with 62 other countries, Australia banned last year. "They were contaminated with a chemical that has a zero tolerance under Australian law - shouldn't be in country, shouldn't be in the market place, should be removed immediately", Bryan said.

In Bryan McLeod's nutrition tests most of the Woolies samples came out ahead of rival Coles and some of the organic -- an example was the Smart Buy beans from China -- which recorded low levels of potassium, sulphur, copper and boron and were high magnesium, indicated poor growing conditions. "Everybody has a responsibility: the responsibility of the farmer is to grow the best nutritional product he can; the responsibility of the supermarkets, the fresh food people is to sell the most nutritious food they can", Bryan said.

"These results are so shocking and serious", said Senator Xenophon, who is now demanding answers from our food regulators.

"What these results disclose is that AQUIS isn't a watch dog, as a toothless Chihuahua. In fact worse than that - they at least yap. This mob isn't even yapping to warn consumers of what the risks are", he added.

'AQUIS' role is to ensure the safety of Australian people, their role is to protect us from imported fruit and veg that they have banned for a reason and the reason they've banned them is because they hurt our health", Bryan said.

Coles told us they take food safety seriously, they have a strict testing program...products are tested by their suppliers, the Today Tonight chemical results may have been caused by cross contamination but will withdraw the Coles smart buy corn pending more testing.