AN alarming number of heavy metals, carcinogenic insecticides and arsenic chemicals has been found in foods being imported into Australia, and stocked on the shelves of various ethnic grocery stores.
SBS Radio’s Punjabi program exclusively investigated 18 common food products found in small grocery stores across Melbourne, including well known brands of basmati rice, Indian spices and even Ghee (rendered fat used in cooking).
After receiving tip offs from listeners and social media posts, the radio program — lead by Walkley-nominated Executive Producer and Presenter Manpreet Kaur Singh— sent a selection of surveillance food products to a lab at the National Association of Testing Authorities.
There, the 18 products from the thousands imported into Australia were tested for various chemicals — and the results were concerning.
Some products found in Asian and Indian specialty supermarkets include insecticides, pesticides and unsafe levels of heavy metals.Source:istock
“Of the few products we were able to test, which is an expensive process, the experts we interviewed said two in particular should not be sold in Australia,” Ms Singh told news.com.au.
“As we understand it, the Department of Agriculture receives the imports, then the Food Standards Australia & NZ write the code where the product must comply with relevant standards and requirements, but it’s up to the local and State Government to ensure that what’s in the store are compliant, and that’s where the issue is happening.”
Some of the products tested that came back with alarming results, and that shouldn’t be stocked on Australian shelves include;
— Kohinoor brand basmati rice found to contain Buprofezin, an insecticide banned in Australia.
— Indian spice brand MDH found to contain pesticides above the accepted Australian limit.
— Banned substance Betel Nut readily available for sale in Australia
In addition to products that failed to meet FSANZ standards, at least three other products could be considered unsafe due to the levels of copper and lead:
Complan — a powdered milk drink for growing children manufactured by Heinz in India
Indus basmati — a rice from Pakistan
Verka Ghee — a clarified butter widely used by South Asians in their daily cooking.
One brand of basmati rice had alarming levels of Buprofezin, an insecticide banned in Australia. Picture: SBS.Source:SBS
Ms Singh said that the Kohinoor brand of basmati rice and the Indian MDH spice were the two products that completely failed Australian food safety standards.
“The rice and spice we tested outright failed the testing,” she said.
“The chemicals we found in the rice are not allowed to be in that product in Australia. This is not a cheap brand of basmati rice, and is very common especially in specialty food stores.”
One of the biggest issues Ms Singh found from the investigation was the amount of product that were being sold as parallel imports, meaning the particular product is only supposed to be sold in the country of origin.
“We find a lot of people selling these parallel imports, which are products that have been made to the standard to the home country,” Ms Singh said.
“For example, these products are usually marked as having to be sold in a certain country, and only to be consumed in say, India. Usually the sale price is in rupees, so it’s obvious when it’s not an authorised product.”
Only five per cent of packaged food imports to Australia are being tested, and this is because packaged foods are not deemed high risk by Australian authorities.
Hundreds of people have expressed concern over small ethnic food shops tampering with use-by dates on certain products.Source:istock
SBS found that drug Betel Nut, a substance banned from sale in Australia, was found to be readily available at South Asian grocery stores in Melbourne.
Another incident that was common across the small Asian and Indian grocery stores in Melbourne was the tampering with use-by dates on packaging.
“Changing the dates on packaging is easily done with spirit and a cotton ball, to erase an existing date and changing it to a time in the future,” Ms Singh said.
“We’ve had hundreds of listeners complain about this happening, and I wonder if it’s happening because of the amount of time it takes to ship product to Australia.
Ms Singh said that while people can usually tell when a product has gone bad, her investigation was to showcase the “poisons we can’t see”.
“The heavy metals and pesticides and insecticides are what we are concerned about,” she said. “Are we checking enough? Are we at world standards? Maybe something needs to be put into place that testing is more stringent and across the board.”