By BELINDA SCOTT
DO you know what you're eating when you tuck into your vegies?
You are what you eat and fruit and vegetables are supposed to be good for you.
But imported fruit and vegetables flooding on to the shelves of Australian supermarkets may contain some unexpected ingredients.
They are proving so indigestible for Australian vegetable growers that many are being forced out of the industry.
And the visiting vegies don't always display their passports, making it difficult for consumers to make an informed choice.
The chairman of grower group AUSVEG, Michael Badcock, said vegetables grown in Australia had to comply with quality assurance programs and other tests required by governments and supermarkets to ensure they were free from pesticides and contaminants ? yet imported vegetables faced relatively few tests and only a small percentage of containers were tested at all.
"I've been in China and seen the toilet paper sticking out of the soil between the rows of green leafy vegetables," Mr Badcock said, "you can draw your own conclusions."
Michael Badcock says 900 vegetable growers have left the industry in the past 12 months.
He represents 6500 vegetable growers across Australia and his members have just held a crisis meeting in Melbourne over the rapidly escalating loss of their markets, especially for processing. Fast food giant McDonald's has just cut Australian potato contracts by 50 per cent in favour of cheaper New Zealand potatoes.
Bonville herb grower Tony Cunningham is a former mushroom grower who supplied Woolworths and Action supermarkets with mushrooms for 20 years. He left the mushroom industry in disgust because he found the supermarkets too ruthless to deal with. He said the tactics he objected to included importing mushrooms without identifying them separately to keep down prices paid for Australian mushrooms, and forcing growers to carry the cost of supermarket specials while the supermarket maintained its own margins.
Mr Cunningham says the 75 per cent market share of the supermarkets has decimated the number of local fruit shops.
Woolgoolga banana grower Ron Gray, who fears banana imports from the Philippines, says vegies are not the only industry suffering.
"If you go into local supermarkets today and look in the (frozen) seafood fridge, most times you will not find any local produce," he said.
"All imports into Australia have to be paid for and in the past few months these balance of payment figures do not look good.
"In the past 12 months asparagus imports from China have increased 7000 per cent, garlic 25 per cent."
Mr Cunningham now sells lettuces and herbs like basil, coriander, rocket and watercress through local outlets, including Bonville's Wild About Fruit shop, whose owner, Ben Robinson, is passionate about local produce.
During the year Mr Robinson sells fresh fruit and vegetable from more than 50 different Coffs Coast growers.
He said both locals and tourists appreciated the freshness and flavour of freshly-picked produce.
New Australian Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran is currently seeking meetings with Coles, Woolworths and McDonald's to put the case for Australian produce.
The fortnightly Coffs Coast Growers' Market will be held in the City Square on Thursday from 9am. This week's market is expected to include about 20 stalls selling local produce.