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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 11 October 2014
24 SATURDAY 11 OCTOBER 2014 FEATURE If you knew that your $25 barra- mundi meal at your favourite res- taurant was in fact caught in South East Asia a week ago, would you buy it? A senate enquiry into seafood la- belling is causing panic in the res- taurant and take-away industries, as it looks into whether consumers deserve more transparency at the cash register. At the wholesale end of the indus- try, all their products have to come with a country of origin label, but restaurateurs and local take-away owners don't need to offer the same. Many businesses feel they will lose customers if they are forced to identify where their seafood comes from, but also feel good quality im- ports will be given a bad name. Steve Soultanidis, owner of Oak- leigh Fish & Chippery, says all fish and chip shop owners should be striving to serve Australian produce but says some imported seafood is just as good if not better. "There are some imported products that are unbelievably great, import- ed prawns are absolutely amazing," he says. "But mostly the local stuff is bet- ter." He has seen colleagues get lured by the cheaper cost of imported products but says they've paid the price for it. "If you buy a Chinese fish it's a lot cheaper, you're basically looking at half the price on a box of flake, but the product is not very good at all," he says. "It's night and day, you can just tell, you'll lose a customer overnight." Greek restaurant Alpha Ouzeri says restaurants who take pride in their produce see that the investment is worth it. Despite running a Greek restaurant, chef Hristos Katopodis goes out of his way to use Austral- ian seafood, which he believes is some of the best in the world. "The best snapper is in Victoria, oc- topus, calamari, prawns, whiting is in South Australia," he says. "Victorian scallops are the best scallops in the world." Mr Katopodis chooses to tell his customers where his seafood comes from to be very transparent and to create more interest in local pro- duce. He says customers are much more aware of what constitutes a good, fresh bit of seafood and are prepared to pay for it. "They know what a good fish is, you can't be tricking them," he says. Three quarters of all seafood con- sumed in Australia is imported. At the wholesaler level, it's a mixed bag of what clients ask for. Queen Victoria Market fishmonger George Milonas says he sells more Australian seafood to locals during market days, but fills more mixed orders from the restaurant industry. "There's a mixture of both out there, so I wouldn't say that one is predominately local, or one is pre- dominately imported," he tells Neos Kosmos. "There are some stores that like to specialise in local produce." He feels many of his clients won't be happy having to fork out more to buy fresher local products to ap- pease customer demands. "I'm sure the restaurateur would just like to put whatever they want on the menu," he says. "I think some of the restaurants won't be happy." Although the senate enquiry won't be finished until October 27, some politicians would like to see the rul- ings legislated to follow the North- ern Territory's model. The Territory has had stricter sea- food labelling laws in place for more than five years, forcing restaurants and local take-away shops to display where their seafood comes from. Independent senator Nick Xeno- phon says the Northern Territory has shown the law is a success. "There's no reason we can't roll that out to the rest of the country," Sena- tor Xenophon says. He believes local industry will be the biggest winners if the laws are put in place nationally. "If we had decent country of origin labelling laws it would actually cre- ate many thousands of Australian jobs," he said this week. Another issue high on the agenda of the enquiry is to standardise the names of 4,000 Australian and im- ported fish species. A barramundi, a local Australian fish, is exactly the same as a sea bass that's imported, but a restaura- teur can label the fish as they like. The Australian Barramundi Farm- ers Association spokesperson, Chris Calogeras, says labelling is hurting the local industry. "When people see the word barra- mundi they equate it with Australia and it may or may not be," he says. Between five and six thousand tonnes of barramundi are produced in Australian each year, valued at $50-60 million. About 1,500 tonnes is caught wild, while 13,000 tonnes are imported. Calls for more transparency with seafood HELEN VELISSARIS Greek exports to Australia rise 20 per cent Greek exports to Australia rose 27 per cent in the first half of 2014, compared with the corresponding period last year, totalling 100 million Australian dollars, from 80 million in 2013. According to figures released by the Australian statistics office, around 50 per cent of Greek exports were food and beverage products, while 85 per cent of exported products to Australia were made by family-owned businesses. Country of origin seafood labelling stops at the wholesaler. Calls for more transparency at the restaurant level has the seafood industry happy, but local eateries seeing red The enquiry hopes to give consumers more choice when they order seafood at restaurants. PHOTO: KOSTAS DEVES.
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