The initial purpose of a Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme (HARPS) was to provide a single food safety certification to replace multiple requirements for growers supplying more than one supermarket chain.
However, this could not be explicitly achieved.
What growers are now required to have is a base scheme—like Freshcare—as well as HARPS.
HARPS is a retailer-led scheme designed to assist with compliance to food safety, legal and trade requirements for suppliers to the major grocery retailers in Australia.
HARPS aims to eliminate the need for multiple audits by ‘harmonising’ the additional requirements of the major grocery retailers, allowing a single audit (for both the base scheme and HARPS).
HARPS launched in October 2016, and approximately 900 growers, suppliers and ancillary suppliers are now HARPS approved.
At the core of the scheme, according to the HARPS Project Team, are consumers’ expectations for safe food and retailers’ commitment to deliver on these demands.
Consumer safety is, of course, of utmost importance to banana growers and their counterparts in other industries.
The Australian Banana Growers’ Council and other peak bodies have received numerous inquiries from concerned growers about what the scheme means for their business—from cost and practicality, through to the audit process itself.
In response, the HARPS Project Team scheduled a number of information sessions across Australia, with a strong focus on growing regions in Queensland.
About 80 people attended the two sessions at the Brisbane Markets on March 21, including 14 growers.
Financial and resourcing requirements of implementing HARPS were raised by a number of people at these sessions.
As it stands, HARPS itself costs $245 plus GST—a fee that is collected through a certifying body.
On top of that, the grower will pay for the annual auditing process. For example, the Freshcare FSQ Audit cost from 1 July will be $878.
The audit costs associated with HARPS approval will be specific to each individual business and depend on their scope of operations and the number of major retailers they supply.
The project team acknowledged that smaller growers will encounter an increased cost to implement HARPS if they currently only have an approved base scheme in place and only supply one retailer.
On the other hand, larger organisations who supply multiple retailers may find that the costs surrounding this process go down as it becomes more streamlined.
HARPS project team presenter Tristan Kitchener said the learning from the recent outbreak in the melon industry highlighted the need for producers to be more proactive in managing food safety—otherwise it could lead to regulators imposing additional food safety regulations should a food safety incident occur.
NSW banana grower Peter Molenaar was one of the attendees in Brisbane and said that HARPS would impose an extra cost, which would impact more on smaller growers who may not be able to absorb it.
“We also grow a fruit with non-edible skin, but are still required to have our water tested, which is another additional fee,” he said.
In response to this question, the HARPS project team offered to take this topic up with the HARPS Technical Advisory Group; this is a group made up of suppliers, growers, auditors, scheme owners and has been created to enable growers to engage with the retailers and table any concerns.
“It is important for HARPS to be practical and realistic and we welcome all feedback to refine and improve HARPS,” Mr Kitchener said.
At the time of going to print, banana growers were being encouraged to attend information sessions in North Queensland including ones in Mareeba and South Johnstone.
Eligible growers have until 1 January 2019 to achieve HARPS.
- Frequently Asked Questions at www.harpsonline.com.au
- Call 1300 852 219 or email firstname.lastname@example.org