Record fine for unsafe oysters

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 6th June 2008

A man has received a record fine after more than 8,000 oysters (703 dozen), which were unsafe for human consumption, were seized at the Sydney Fish Market, Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said today.Terry Allan Harding was fined a record-high $42,000 for five offences relating to the harvest and sale of unsafe oysters.

Mr Harding, from Port Macquarie, was charged by NSW Food Authority officers with harvesting oysters from the Hastings River while all the harvest zones on the river were closed due to rainfall, between the 28 February and 3 March 2006.

“The fine is the biggest imposed by the Court for the offences and sends a clear message to operators who flout the law,” Minister Macdonald said. “A key priority of this Government is to protect consumers and maintain our valuable seafood industry. This fine reflects the severity of the offences and the threat that illegal practices pose to the industry.

“During prolonged periods of rain, oyster-growing areas can be temporarily closed because pollutants that are flushed into the water may contaminate oysters. There are strict shellfish management plans in place, which all NSW commercial oyster farmers must follow – including stopping harvesting when rainfall exceeds a set level.”

“This ensures that NSW oysters are as safe as possible, and protects consumers from eating potentially contaminated oysters,” Minister Macdonald added.

“Fortunately in this case officers from the Food Authority seized the batch of oysters at the Sydney Fish Market before they were sold to consumers.”

The Industrial Magistrate’s Court heard that laboratory analysis showed the oysters had E. coli bacteria levels above the allowable limit and that some of the oysters contained Salmonella. E. coli bacteria indicated pollution of faecal origin and presented a risk of human pathogenic bacteria or virus being present, with the presence of Salmonella confirming the fact that the oysters were unsafe to eat.

Mr Macdonald said the Court’s decision also sends a message to producers that ignorance of food safety requirements cannot be used as a defence against prosecution. “This verdict spells out plainly that oyster farmers must be aware of and abide by procedures and protocols that protect consumers,” he warned. “Authorities are constantly on the lookout for food businesses that put the public’s health at risk by deliberately ignoring food safety laws.

Minister Macdonald added that the case was in stark contrast to the high standards generally witnessed in the industry. “It’s important to realise the vast majority of oyster producers go to great efforts to comply with the requirements,” he said. “The Food Authority works closely with oyster growers to ensure the oysters produced in NSW are as safe as possible.

Details of the prosecution are available on the NSW Food Authority’s website at www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/prosecutions.asp.