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Recently, there's been an incident involving frozen berries handled in China spreading Hepatitis A in Australia.

People are responding to this by arguing for better labeling of where food products are from, so that people can choose not to buy food from "risky" countries, with the implication that the hepatitis A incident was made more likely by it being handled in China.

Example claim

The infected berries, which are thought to have come from China, have angered local growers, who claim that they are being placed at a competitive disadvantage by having to comply with stringent safety and environmental standards that do not apply overseas.

Problems around food safety are particularly pervasive in China, where up to 90% of groundwater is said to be polluted.

Is food handled in China but available in Australia less safe than the same item grown and handled in Australia?

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    In order to answer this question conclusively yes or no, it seems to me that one would need to know how to quantify "less safe" and then figure out a way to take some sort of weighted average across all Australian- and Chinese-handled food. I can't begin to imagine what criteria one would use, let alone actually gathering the data, so it's hard for me to believe that this question is answerable. Can you offer any suggestions? – Nate Eldredge Feb 20 '15 at 15:14
  • I don't have details, so this is only a comment, but the TV reports explain the Australian producers have many tests and red tape from before a seed is put in the ground through the growing and picking of fruit/vegetables to the selection and packing. The comparison with some imported fruit is that only 10% (IIRC) is tested for some things (and Hep A wasn't one of them anyway). – Mark Hurd Feb 22 '15 at 5:15
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The primary question being asked here doesn't seem to be about this particular incident, but rather about whether it is representative of a wider difference in food safety standards. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much effort to objectively compare the food safety records of these two countries. Compared to other OECD countries, Australia was found to be in the bottom third. China was not included in the study.

A different study looked at "over 3,400 verified instances of food safety violations associated with products exported from 117 countries", and China was second only to India for the highest number of violations. However, keep in mind that China is also the world's largest food producer, and Australia's third largest foreign supplier. Given that the United States was also in the top ten violators, and is an even larger supplier of Australian imports, it arguably deserves equal scrutiny.

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    It's noteworthy that the Canadian report on food safety you linked ranked Canada first. The indicators chosen are less than perfect, and perfect indicators are not available. One might expect an Australian report would chose different indicators with different weights attached to them and thus rank Australia first. – Peter May 3 '17 at 13:18

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