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Stakeholder consultation: Untreated manures, quality assurance and management (VG16059)

Key research provider: Kitchener Partners
Publication date: Monday, February 22, 2021

What was it all about?

The Harmonised Australian Retailer Produce Scheme (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. Through harmonising the different Quality Assurance certifications required by retailers, it aims to reduce the stress associated with the adoption, maintenance and auditing of multiple food safety systems to multiple retail customers and has the potential to reduce costs.

In 2012, the former Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) took the concept of eliminating multiple audit schemes to the major retailers at the request of industry. Today, it is led by the retailers and managed by a Project Team, including the Produce Marketing Association (PMA A-NZ).

HARPS has combined the individual requirements of each of the major grocery retailers in Australia into a single scheme. Now producers must be audited to a Base Scheme plus the HARPS requirements to become HARPS approved. HARPS only applies to whole fruit, whole vegetables and nuts in shell (i.e. not processed fresh produce), and uses a risk-based approach to manage food safety issues specific to the horticultural industry; no two businesses are the same and the level of risk is relative to the specific activities undertaken.

The five major retailers that have developed and recognise HARPS are ALDI, Coles, Costco, Metcash (IGA) and Woolworths. HARPS must be adopted with an approved base scheme. These schemes are:

  • Freshcare Food Safety & Quality
  • SQF
  • BRC Global Standard for Food Safety
  • A.P. Integrated Farm Assurance

All growers and suppliers, including agents, brokers and distributors, that are supplying finished product (i.e. shelf-ready) in retail packaging (branded or generic) may be required to be HARPS approved. This also applies to any agent, broker, distributor or vendor supplying, growing and/or packaging whole produce for retail sale.

HARPS addresses the key causes of rejections experienced by the major grocery retailers as a result of issues relating to food safety, legal or trade requirements. Rejections are costly for retailers but also for growers and suppliers, particularly when product recalls (due to food safety issues) or withdrawals (due to breach of legal or trade requirements) occur.

HARPS can play a role in addressing concerns about food safety, an issue that is increasingly important to consumers. While this may add some cost to produce businesses, the cost (and risk) of not investing in food safety is likely much greater than many might like to believe. The intent of HARPS is to also facilitate a cultural and attitudinal change towards meeting the HARPS elements, and most particularly food safety. The intention is to move away from a ‘tick-and flick’ approach to a position whereby food safety is culturally embedded within every activity of a business; it should not just be the Quality Assurance personnel who are responsible for food safety but rather every person working in that business, taking a collective responsibility.