Swine flu triggers call for better food plan disclosure

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 27th April 2009

A leading Australian expert in Food Law and Policy, Professor Joe Lederman, has called for decisive Federal government leadership to ensure the security of Australia’s food supply in the event of any pandemic.

The Managing Principal of the FoodLegal law firm and an Adjunct Professor of Food Law at Deakin University, Professor Lederman said that news of the human-to-human transmission of a lethal influenza strain out of Mexico made it imperative that governments, industry suppliers and retailers all immediately re-visit and test their plans for maintaining food supply chains and adjusting infrastructure needs for a pandemic scenario.

An outbreak of swine flu in Mexico has again stimulated fears of a global pandemic, with 86 deaths in Mexico and over 1,000 people treated for swine flu symptoms. The World Health Organization has now warned that it does have pandemic potential and stressed a need for vigilance as Spain, France, the US, Canada and New Zealand all report cases that could be linked to the Mexican outbreak.

Professor Lederman consequently believes that we must enhance our plans in case of an outbreak, with governments needing to instill confidence in the food supply system and expand funding to cover all known points of vulnerability.

“If social quarantining becomes a necessity in a pandemic scenario, then existing automated cross-dock or flow-through stock inventory replenishment programs would need to be overridden by agreement between the food companies, supermarkets and governments,” he cautioned. “This is because buying patterns would be immediately affected in a major way if people are required to stay home to isolate themselves socially to avoid being infected by the serious contagious illness.”

In describing other potential consequences, Professor Lederman said that “alternative grocery distribution systems may be needed, even within the existing supermarkets, and shop layouts could require reconfiguration to minimise human interaction.”

Public health experts have long warned of a global pandemic but it remains unclear as to the potential threat to the human population of the current outbreak. There remains hope that the outbreak could fizzle out in a few weeks and never reappear but it has again highlighted the need for contingency plans in case of the global spread of a deadly virus.