The Feds have launched a crackdown on what they call the “beverages and food” industry, with the Federal Department of Agriculture and Fisheries announcing it will be investigating alleged fraud schemes on behalf of soy, rice and palm oil companies.
The Department of Health has also announced it will conduct an investigation into alleged fraud involving the beverage and food industry.
The investigation will look into whether or not businesses are operating without a licence to produce or sell a beverage or food, or are marketing products that are not compliant with the Food Safety Act.
The Federal Government is also taking action to help consumers and businesses comply with food and beverage safety rules, with more than $2 billion worth of fines handed down in the past 12 months.
Under the Fair Trading Act, companies can be fined up to $2 million if they fail to produce a product that is not suitable for human consumption.
The Agriculture Department’s investigation into the soy beverage and foods industry is being led by a team of industry experts, and the investigation will also examine whether companies are operating under false or misleading representations about the safety of their products.
The Food Standards Agency and the Department of Environment and Energy are also investigating the soy and rice industry.FDA commissioner Andrew Griffiths said the industry was facing a crisis.
“This is an industry that is experiencing significant challenges in terms of the cost of regulation, and that is something that we’re working hard to address,” he said.
“There are more than 80 companies, including major multinationals, operating in the sector.”
He said the investigation would look at whether or to what extent those businesses are complying with the FCA’s rules.
The FCA and the Federal Government are also working together to crack down on the sale of soy-flavoured beverages, and other food products with soy and palm oils.
The Fair Trading Amendment Act allows the department to impose penalties of up to 50 per cent of the retail price of a product, which can range from $1,000 to $20,000.
Under current laws, there are no requirements to produce the food product before it is sold, and companies have to produce and sell the food before it enters the Australian marketplace.
But Mr Griffiths warned that it would not be enough to prosecute the “suspected” fraudsters.
“The food and beverages industry is a complex business and we need to have more enforcement and monitoring,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“If there are people out there who are selling a product and there is no proof of their compliance with these regulations, then the best thing to do is prosecute them and prosecute them appropriately.”