PrimeSafe to undergo changes following independent review
By Gemma Mainland (FoodLegal Consultant)
FoodLegal Lawyers and Consultants
© Lawmedia Pty Ltd, December 2015
On 26 October 2015, an independent review of PrimeSafe and Victoria’s meat and fish regulations was released, setting out 24 recommendations for the industry regulator.
PrimeSafe was established in July 2003 as Victoria’s meat and seafood regulator, under the Seafood Safety Act 2003 and the Meat Industry Act 1993. PrimeSafe is responsible for the safety and regulatory enforcement of the rules of production and sale of meat, seafood and pet food in Victoria.
The review was requested by the Hon. Jaala Pulford, Minister for Agriculture for Victoria, and led by Mr Allan Myers AO QC. The recommendations was developed based on information received through 45 interviews with licencee, industry and support groups and 20 written submissions.
The review addressed criticisms regarding PrimeSafe, including poor communication, excessive regulatory paperwork and over-regulation. For example, the review considered the ability for new or prospective licensees to understand what is required of them to become licensed and operate a business.
A ‘rewards system’ was suggested by the review, whereby businesses with good track records would be subjected to less frequent audits. Additionally, the report recommended modification of some processes and procedures surrounding communication and education, engagement, licensing, compliance and audits.
The PrimeSafe Board reported it has fully accepted the review and intends to collaborate with industry and Government to implement recommendations.
PrimeSafe will not become the regulator for meat sold in supermarkets as the Victorian Government reject Recommendation 19, which suggested the expansion of the scope of PrimeSafe’s regulation to supermarkets, farmers markets and mobile butchers. This regulator will remain with local councils.
Complete list of recommendations
The complete list of recommendations as published by PrimeSafe is as follows:
"EDUCATION, INFORMATION AND ADVICE
- That PrimeSafe consider providing regular updates to licensees, containing information about relevant regulatory developments, PrimeSafe’s activities, and developments in food safety science and technology.
- That PrimeSafe continue its program of hosting “forums” on aspects of food safety compliance, in both metropolitan and regional areas.
- That, in its communications with licensees, PrimeSafe clearly distinguish between: (a) documents that contain uncontroversial general information; and (b) documents (like PrimeNotes) in the nature of guidelines, which set out PrimeSafe’s views on how the standards should be interpreted.
- That, where PrimeSafe proposes to release a document in the nature of a guideline, it adopt the following process: (a) develop a draft guideline; (b) make the draft guideline available for comment, and invite consultation from licensees and other stakeholders; (c) make appropriate changes in light of the consultation process; (d) provide licensees with notice of when the guideline will come into effect; and (e) give licensees sufficient time to adjust their practices (if necessary) before the guideline comes into effect.
Education and training
- That PrimeSafe consider ways in which it can encourage the development of education and training programs, in particular, in relation to quality assurance practices in the meat industry and the manufacture of smallgoods and UCFMs.
- That PrimeSafe introduce a system of pre-application consultation, allowing applicants to consult with PrimeSafe in relation to a proposed application for a new licence, an amendment to an existing licence or approvals relating to new products and processes, before a formal application is made to PrimeSafe.
- That this system of pre-application consultation should identify for the applicant the criteria that PrimeSafe will consider when assessing the application and, where appropriate, make suggestions as to how the applicant might be able to meet those criteria.
- That PrimeSafe investigate whether it is possible to reduce the paperwork associated with compliance through the use of technology, building on its existing commitment to work with third party auditing companies to implement electronic reporting and data transfer. Sample Sizes for Listeria Testing
- That PrimeSafe consider amending its listeria testing requirements so that testing is only required of samples of products rather the product “as sold”.
- That PrimeSafe consider developing a simplified process for licensees to seek approval for variations of an approved product in circumstances where PrimeSafe determines there is little risk associated with the proposed change.
Reward for Performance
- That PrimeSafe develop a new reward for performance program which will result in audit frequency being reduced in circumstances where a licensee has a good audit track record (determined by reference to the licensee’s immediate past audit history).
- That PrimeSafe adequately publicise the new reward for performance program so that licensees are aware that it is available to them.
Auditor’s Code of Conduct and Complaints
- That PrimeSafe inform licensees of the Code of Conduct applicable to auditors and the avenues that are available to raise complaints against auditors.
- That PrimeSafe implement a process by which audit companies must notify PrimeSafe of any complaints made in relation to auditors who are used by PrimeSafe licensees to enable PrimeSafe to monitor the progress and outcome of those complaints.
Internal Review of Auditor’s Decisions
- That PrimeSafe consider implementing a system under which decisions by auditors to issue major or critical CARs are subject to review by a suitably qualified person within PrimeSafe who is able to substitute his or her own decision for that taken by the auditor.
- That PrimeSafe adequately publicise any such internal review process so that licensees are aware that it is available to them.
Escalation of Audits
- That PrimeSafe identify for licensees the decision-making process in relation to escalation of audit frequency, so that licensees can be fully informed of the steps taken by PrimeSafe before a decision is made to increase audit frequency.
- That PrimeSafe provide licensees with an opportunity to make submissions to PrimeSafe before a decision is made by the Chief Executive Officer to increase the frequency of audits.
REGULATION OF FARMERS’ MARKETS, ON-FARM BUTCHERS AND SUPERMARKETS
- That PrimeSafe continue to engage with government and other stakeholders to bring about the legislative changes necessary to allow PrimeSafe to regulate farmers’ markets, mobile butchers, and supermarkets.
*Note: This recommendation is for Government’s consideration.
THE SEAFOOD INDUSTRY
- That PrimeSafe communicate to the seafood industry the results of its consideration of its wildcatch and aquaculture compliance and auditing arrangements.
- That PrimeSafe consider whether the licensing fees charged to the seafood industry are disproportionate to the costs of regulating that industry and, if they are, that PrimeSafe take that matter into account in its next review of licensing fees.
- That PrimeSafe consider whether the water and shellfish testing requirements it has imposed at fisheries in Victoria are warranted, and comply with PrimeSafe’s obligations under the Statement of Expectations.
CULTURE AND ATTITUDE OF PRIMESAFE
- That PrimeSafe express in writing all significant decisions and other communications that affect the rights and interests of licensees.
- That PrimeSafe ensure that it responds to communications from licensees and other individuals in a timely fashion, and communicates appropriately where there is likely to be a delay.”
This is general information rather than legal advice and is current as of 9 Dec 2015. We therefore recommend you seek legal advice for your particular circumstances if you want to rely on advice or information to be a basis for any commercial decision-making by you or your business.