We are what we eat

Barley ready for harvest: Will it's quality be guaranted in the future?

Quality assurance comes to the grains industry

Buyers of farm produce are increasingly demanding that the products which they purchase meet prescribed quality standards, are free of chemical residues and have been handled in a way that ensures that they will not create health problems for consumers.

Quality assurance systems help meet these demands and offer benefits to growers in two ways. Firstly, through productivity gains due to good management practices, reduced risks and lower costs of production. Secondly, by ensuring continued access to existing markets and providing opportunities to enter new markets for premium products.

The GRDC is currently investing in two quality assurance studies on behalf of the Australian grains industry. The Cooperative Research Centre for Quality Wheat Products and Processes is guiding a study which will lead to quality assurance systems for the wheat industry.

A second study is developing quality assurance in the pulse industry on behalf of Pulse Australia Ltd (see story p2).

"The emphasis in both is on 'paddock to plate' approaches to quality assurance," said John Lovett, Managing Director of the GRDC. "An equally important goal is to promote compatibility in quality assurance systems for the grains industry as a whole."

How it will be done

Both wheat and pulse systems are based on an analytical tool called Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP). HACCP focuses on prevention rather than cure and relies on a systematic assessment of potential hazards to food safety and quality along the route from paddock to plate. Onfarm hazards, for example, range from sticks and stones in harvested grain, through chemical residues to protein content outside the level for premium segregations.

When hazards are identified, preventative measures can be developed to minimise risk. In the case of chemical residues — a concern to many customers for grains, both for food and for feed — measures include using only registered chemicals at recommended rates, observing withholding periods, and employing properly trained staff.

If, despite careful use of the HACCP approach, a problem occurs then corrective actions can be taken. For instance, the case of a suspected chemical residue, tests can establish whether or not the correct chemical at the proper rate was applied.

As well as being a tool to ensure food safety — and consumer confidence — HACCP emphasises good management practice. Australian grain growers are already among the most efficient in the world. Many growers are operating to quality assurance standards. A more formal adoption of HACCP systems as a means to ensuring quality assurance will further enhance the standing of the industry and its access to the market place.