Expertise underpins safe fish trade

Industry participation in the development of international food safety standards is helping to ensure proposed international protocols are workable in Australia

By Catherine Norwood

;" (From top) Natalie Dowsett, Anne Astin and Alison Turnbull

Helping Australia maintain access to international markets is one of the main objectives of SafeFish Australia, which provides technical advice to international seafood trade negotiations.

SafeFish chair Anne Astin says the aim is to establish a level playing field for Australian products to access international markets. “Unfair rules for trade can have a major impact, stopping access to key markets.

However, providing input into the various international processes like the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which develops the international rules around food safety, is complicated and sometimes highly technical, but it is important that it is done.

“It is vital for Australian seafood companies to be engaged early on; it is far easier to influence the rules whilst they are being laid down than to change them retrospectively,” she says. While many issues are export-focused, SafeFish also oversees food safety issues related to seafood imports and domestic trade of Australian seafood.

SafeFish’s contribution and input into the international risk-based approach for abalone biotoxin monitoring, for example (see Algal toxins have little impact on abalone), has been amajor success for the Australian industry. The draft standard proposed mandatory testing for marine biotoxins and bacteria in all abalone-growing areas.

This would have been costly and unworkable. But the approach finally adopted recognises that hazards and risk management procedures in one country may not be applicable to another.  

Industry input

Anne Astin says industry input is a crucial part of SafeFish developing responses to food safety issues. “We need industry to tell us which issues are important, and which practices and risk-management strategies fit with the Australian context. Industry advice helps us to determine whether suggested regulations are practical to implement, and what the potential impact might be.”

SafeFish has three working groups: one developing the Code of Practice for scallops, and two groups reviewing guidelines, risk management strategies and maximum allowable levels for contaminants in fish (histamines and mercury). Other issues SafeFish is addressing for input into Codex include food additives in processed seafood (such as sulfites in abalone), parasites in seafood, and methods of analysis for marine biotoxins.

SafeFish welcomes industry feedback or input into all of these. SafeFish is funded by the Seafood Cooperative Research Centre, the FRDC, Primary Industries and Regions South Australia and industry.

Partnership committee members include Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the Department of Agriculture, Seafood Trade Advisory Group (Spiro Markantonakis), Sydney Fish Market (Mark Boulter), Seafood Importer Association (Norm Grant) and Seafood New Zealand (Alastair McFarlane) as an observer.

Experienced direction

SafeFish chair Anne Astin joined in 2014. As the former chief executive officer of Dairy Food Safety Victoria, she brings to the role her extensive knowledge and understanding of primary industry supply and value chains both domestically and internationally, plus excellent navigation of government systems at international, national and local levels. She is also a previous director of Dairy Australia and chair of the Ministerial Forum for Food Regulation’s Implementation Sub-committee.

She is a director of Australian Dairy Farmers Ltd and the William Angliss Institute of TAFE, President of the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology and a member of the Federal Government’s Health Star Rating Advisory Committee.

Alison Turnbull has been the SafeFish program manager since July 2013. She has spent many years managing the impact of toxic algal blooms on commercial bivalve mollusc fisheries through her previous role as a human health regulator in Tasmania.

She has also acted as a technical adviser to several Australian government delegations at the Codex Committee of Fish and Fisheries Products, particularly around the setting of international standards relating to marine biotoxins in seafood. Her current role is subprogram leader of Food Safety and Innovation, Seafood at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI).

Natalie Dowsett, a senior research officer at SARDI, has been the SafeFish executive officer since its inception in 2010. Her role is to facilitate the production of research and technical reports, risk assessments and position papers in direct response to industry trade and market access needs and requests. She also helps to coordinate industry and technical input that supports a number of Australian delegations at Codex. 


Seafood safety information

The SafeFish website provides access to: 

  • food safety issues and news;
  • published technical and other reports on seafood safety for the Australian industry;
  • Codex processes; and
  • SafeFish processes and working groups.

Latest publications include:

  • Safe Packaged Seafood: A guide to identifying food safety hazards and determining the shelf-life of packaged seafood products – published by the Australian Seafood Cooperative Research Centre, in conjunction with the more technical report; and
  • A Guide to the Identification of Food Safety Hazards and Determination of Shelf-life of Packaged Seafood.

FRDC Research Code: 2009-752.10