The Regulation Diaries: PrimeSafe’s War Against Salami Days

 

This is the first of what I aim to be a series on the negative impacts of food safety regulation on small-scale production and freedom of choice in Australia.

This first instalment details the story of how Victorian meat regulator PrimeSafe destroyed all our salamis last year. I will seek permission from other salami day hosts to share some more stories of PrimeSafe actively shutting down salami workshops across Victoria (of which I know at least three in addition to us).

Future posts will explain the minutiae of regulation and compliance for small-scale meat, dairy, & egg producers, as well as butchers, providores & chefs with a story to tell – if you have one, I’m happy to host guest posts on this topic.

* * *

The late-model government vehicle rolled up the driveway just before 3pm the day before an early-morning flight to France.

As The Inspector stepped out of the car to approach us, she jutted her hand out in greeting, pronouncing, ‘Hi Tammi, Stuart. I understand you’re heading for France tomorrow?’

Taken aback, I answered that yes, we were going to research traditional methods of charcuterie and salumi making in France and Italy. It was obvious that neither PrimeSafe’s surprise visit nor their knowledge of our travel plans boded well for us.

The Inspector asked whether we had allowed participants in our recent salami day to take home salamis from the workshop and we replied that yes, we had. She told us this was a ‘very serious breach of the Act’, to which we confessed our ignorance and apologized for the mistake.

The Inspector then explained that she had a complaint from an attendee at our salami day a fortnight earlier. According to the complaint:

  • our salami shed was ‘not a good environment for making salami’;
  • we took a vote with the 45 attendees and opted not to use nitrates;
  • there were dogs around during the workshop; and
  • ‘there appeared to be a bullet hole in the pig’s head’. (This last we responded was clearly false and that the pig had been slaughtered at our usual abattoir, so apparently we were dealing with a vexatious complaint.)

NB: we never received written notice of the complaint – all of this was delivered verbally to us by The Inspector.

The Inspector told us that it appeared that there was ‘somebody in the industry who doesn’t like you very much,’ judging by the complaint.

She asked to be taken to the salamis hanging just behind us in the salami shed in plain view from the driveway, and whether they could take some photos. I laughingly responded that there were photos all over the internet, and that they were in fact our Facebook cover photo at the moment. That’s the last time I laughed.

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She then asked to see our licensed retail butcher’s shop here on the farm. We complied and they found nothing of concern. The Inspector then asked to be taken back to the salamis, noting on the way there that she needed to tell us something ‘we would not be happy about’ – that an outcome of their visit may be that they would have to destroy all our salami hanging in the shed. We asked why that would be when it is not part of our commercial business and is solely for our own consumption. She said we shouldn’t talk more about it now, but that she simply wanted us to be prepared for something that might happen that we wouldn’t like.

We offered to email all participants and ask them to dispose of the salamis they had taken home and apologise, telling them we had made a mistake and that we were not legally allowed to let them take the salami home. The Inspector said she would tell the CEO of PrimeSafe that we had offered to do this, and that it would reflect favourably on us that we had offered.

The Inspector rang the CEO for advice on whether the salami hanging in the shed had to be destroyed. She asked us to move away while she had this conversation. When she got off the phone she conferred with her colleague. They then waved us back to the shed.

The Inspector said ‘you’re not going to like this’ and proceeded to tell us that we were going to have to destroy all the salami. She said we had two choices, one was to cooperate and help take all the salami down to be condemned, and the other was to refuse to cooperate, in which case she and her colleague would go and wait at the bottom of our driveway for the police, who would forcibly return and destroy the salami with them.

She suggested it would not go as well for us if we opted for the latter, and that she had pleaded our case to the CEO and ‘kept the boning room out of it’. She asked us to cooperate on the basis that she was trying to help us, and that she believed that we were being honest, but that if we didn’t comply, she couldn’t promise she would continue to help us.

At this stage I burst into tears, and said ‘you don’t understand how important it is to us not to waste anything’ and that it was disrespectful to take an animal’s life and then destroy the meat. We reiterated that the salamis were for our own personal use, and that we had no intention of selling them, and that we would be more than willing to sign an undertaking to that effect. The Inspector asked me to compose myself, saying it ‘bothered her’ to see me upset. I said this whole event was upsetting.

I asked to see the relevant part of the Act that gave them the power to destroy our salamis. The Inspector showed me the section (section 72 of the Meat Industry Act 1993), which states that they have power to seize and condemn meat and even live animals. (We have subsequently received legal advice that The Inspector’s powers to destroy meat under these circumstances is ‘arguable’.)

I queried whether the shed was arguably actually a residence as it’s not part of our licensed premises, and The Inspector said ‘no, it’s land’. She said she could go anywhere on our land because we are PrimeSafe’s licensee.

Another 20 minutes of discussion and phone calls to the CEO resulted in nothing except reminders that if we were cooperative it was likely to ‘go better’ for us.

Our children returned from school and were standing nearby. The Inspector asked whether we could send the children into the house as they appeared distressed and shouldn’t see me upset. I replied that of course they were distressed as they hate waste as much as we do, but that we would not send them away as we share everything with our children and want them to understand the world in which they live.

We also had our four WWOOFers working on a pump about 15m away, and The Inspector said ‘there’s a crowd drawing, and this is when inspectors get hurt’, to which I replied that it was outrageous to suggest we were being in any way threatening. She agreed, but asked us to ‘understand her position’.

She also asked us to be calm and go in to destroy the salami ‘in a civilised manner’. I replied that there is nothing civilised about coming to our home and destroying meat from animals we raise with such care on our farm and kill purely for food, in a world where people are hungry.

Before the destruction began, we asked whether we could just take the meat inside and eat it ourselves, feed it to our dogs, or have it tested, but the answer was ‘no’.

The Inspector instructed Stuart to get a bin, preferably something the dogs couldn’t get into and that wasn’t a food safe bin as the ‘condemnation ink’ was toxic and might kill our dogs or contaminate food bins. He complied and got a large barrel.

I climbed a ladder and removed all of the salamis while my boys filmed me doing so. The Inspector got back on the phone with the CEO while I took the salamis down and asked her colleague to stay near us.

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The Inspector said it was good we were going away for three weeks the next day to give time for PrimeSafe to decide what to do so that it was less likely to affect our day to day business. She said our next planned workshop upon our return in July may not be allowed to proceed. I asked what jurisdiction PrimeSafe has over our workshops if it doesn’t involve any meat for consumption or sale. She said the shed is a ‘meat processing facility’ because we are PrimeSafe licensees.

NB: subsequent legal advice identified no prohibitions in the Meat Industry Act on operating the workshops in the salami shed.

We asked again whether we should email all attendees and ask them to dispose of their salamis. The Inspector replied that that was up to us, and there was no requirement to do so.

As The Inspector and her colleague started to leave, I stopped her and said, ‘you know how you said you receive death threats and aren’t well liked?’ The Inspector pulled her shoulders back and her eyes widened slightly. I said, ‘well, people do like us, and they’re going to be really sad and angry when they learn what you did today.’

And so we’re telling you now, world. We’ve turned our own sadness and anger into action, and we’re ready to fight. We want to and we do produce safe food, but we produce something so much more than just safe. We produce food that nourishes our land, our family, and our community. We produce food in ways that value connection, flavour, and regeneration.

This regulator has been left unchecked for too long. It’s time you let your government know what kind of world you want to live in and what kind of food you want to eat. If you’re happy with imported, frozen meat manufactured into pale imitations of traditional smallgoods by Big Food, so be it. If not, this fight is your fight too.

With all the pressure PrimeSafe are under now that the Minister has announced the review, the cynical side of me is waiting for someone to manufacture or highly dramatise a food safety incident to regain the public’s sympathy and fear. So here’s me putting it on the public record to stave off that possibility or at least date stamp our awareness of that particular tactic.

And here’s hoping my cynicism is misplaced and that our government wants fair and consistent regulation just like we do.

Read Part 2 of The Regulation Diaries: PrimeSafe’s War on Farm Gate Shops

Read Part 3 of The Regulation Diaries: PrimeSafe’s War on Meat

Read Part 4 of The Regulation Diaries: PrimeSafe’s War on Fat

Published by

Tammi Jonas

The infrequent and imperfect yet impassioned musings of a farmer, meatsmith, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and cultural commentator with a penchant for food and community…

33 thoughts on “The Regulation Diaries: PrimeSafe’s War Against Salami Days”

  1. Thanks Tammi,
    The “Great Victorian Salami War” has a nice ring to it – seriously, I am glad you have put your story out there.
    I am more than happy to hear of any other issues, folk might raise. I am awaiting a response from Jaala Pulford as to the nature of the inquiry, how public comment or submissions will be handled, etc.
    Please feel free to contact Tammi, or myself directly, should you wish to comment further about this issue
    Regards
    Andrew Miller
    Stock and Land newspaper
    8667 1218

  2. Goodness, this is appalling stuff. I think you guys need a lawyer on call in case this happens again, and insist that any inspectors wait for the lawyer to arrive. Ludicrous circumstances, I am shocked. It sounds like the inspector really doesn’t know their job, or is willing to use intimidation to get their way.

  3. Tammi, this is just outrageous behaviour on the part of Prime Safe and the inspector. I’m deeply shocked that they can come jack-booting around on your property like that. I agree with Jodie – you need to find a legal mate who will familiarise themselves with the act and then put them on speed dial.
    Sharing.

  4. This has got me MAD AS HELL…. Government Bureaucracy is dragging this country down to it’s knees. I am personally going to approach our local govt members and protest. I hear that this mob is also stopping local butchers in ageing their meat, but it’s OK for large scale meat emporiums and supermarkets to sell mutton as lamb and sawdust as sausages.

    I have recently downsized my property by moving from a small acreage back to a suburban block so I have lots of time on my hands and need to find a new projects and THIS IS IT. I want to eat grass fed meat that is aged and tasty and I will fight for my right to do this ……..

  5. Tammi,
    I’ve been following your families journey for years. Admiring the way you conduct yourselves with respect to ethics and waste. I’m learning a lot and taking it in for what we hope will be a successful move to a rural setting that is both productive and gentle on the environment. We’ve balked at meat production because of the onerous regulations that are clearly geared for large scale operations, and have ethics and sustainability thrown in as some sort of onerous afterthought (if thought of at all).

    The fact that the Prime”Safe” inspector wasn’t able to give a good or even legal reason for the destruction of your private meat is telling.

    All the best,
    Tor.

  6. Hi Tammi and all
    I plan to put an abridged version of your article in our newsletter which goes to several hundred people in far east Gippsland. I wonder if you have submitted it to Weekly Times? Gippsland likes to imagine its future as artisan producers of quality food. I think people would be concerned about this state of regulatory affairs.

  7. Tammi,
    It is disgusting how you & your family were bullied into this and that the inspector basically threatened you into doing their will. I have read similar stories of this occuring in the US but to hear it here is just scary. I heard Joel Salatin say they now have a legal defence fund for that small farmers oay into and they have on call legal experts to help them in these cases, it would appear we need that here to.

  8. Thanks, Shane. It’s happening far too often here now too, and through my role as President of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance I’m working with a group of others on setting up a legal defence fund here in Australia along the lines of the one Joel established in the US. In fact I visited Joel and the ED for the US Farm to Consumer Legal Defence Fund on my recent #epicfairfoodtour of America!

  9. Hard to get past the idea that this might have more to do with politics (AFSA and annoying Big Food) than food safety – the timing and having to phone home for instructions kinda gives it away a bit. The small producers legal defence pool is starting to look like a VERY good idea ! I’m not as anti-govt as some here – I just want our governments back from the pockets of the big corporations.

  10. Go Tammi & Stu & kids!!!
    Gloves off!!
    Finally a time for reckoning. Too long an unchecked bureaucracy flexing its muscle and bullying small producers and doing the dirty work for big food and the supermarkets.
    Just maybe with Jaala Pulford MP we have a minister who will shake the tree.

  11. Thanks Tammi,

    An appalling story reporting an act of bullying by bureaucracies gone mad.
    As others have said ‘the gloves are coming off’ and it is time that this/these abuses of power are exposed to the masses.

    You have my support.

  12. This makes me SO mad ! I think you did very well under extremely provoking circumstances. Big food is alive and well using govt lackeys to further its toxic products I will be writing to my local member.

  13. Hi Tammi. This is truly a horrible situation you found yourselves in & I admire that you didn’t become aggressive. Let me tell you I’d eat your salamis & meat & charcuterie products well before I’d buy supermarket produce. Know that there are many of us who will continue to support the small, ethical producer over & above the big factories whose product contain questionable content, masked by chemicals of every manner. Stay strong!

  14. Tammi,

    We met in April when I was there for the Joel Salatin workshops. Thank you again for the time you and Stuart couldn’t, but did, spare for my visit and lunch.

    It truly is testament to your families nature just how composed you are with all this.

    I have difficulties to share in trying to set up a pastured egg farm in the Bega Valley, its “Intensive” and has been rejected unless I can show I can grow 60% of food from the farm. I will do that in another email. These regulations are afoot in Victoria as well.

    When Joel Salatin describes himself as a Libertarian, this is why. Hopefully your readers, customers and the wider community can see that unless they put their political vote behind this, its all for naught.

    You will find a friend in the LDP I am sure, they are on the lookout for freedom orientated issues such as this, raw milk and anything else an adult wants to partake in that doesn’t harm others.

    http://www.ldp.org.au/index.php/principles

  15. Thanks for sharing Tammi.

    I think its important now (more than ever) that others know about this particular incident and learn of some of the ridiculous rules and regulations inhibiting small producers accross Australia.

    Thankyou for being so open and honest….not to mention composed xx

  16. Hello Tammi

    Very sad to hear about this. It takes me back about 9 years when they raided Ange Cardoso’s Jamon, chorizo and other goods factory in Lara they removed and destroyed?? many hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of very fine smallgoods link here.
    http://sunnybraerestaurantandcookingschool.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Jamon%20Jamon%3F

    Hopefully now there can be a stronger campaign to address this stupidity.

    Let me know what I may be able to do to help.

    George

  17. For thousands of years mankind has been preserving meat. All of a sudden it is dangerous and leathal. Bull shit all that is happening here is control by people who have no idea. I grew up on dried meat. Dried sausages which are illegal to make in Victoria, biltong home made salamies etc We drank milk straight from the cows udders. Well I survived and so did everyone els I grew up with. What is wrong with the world. The powers that be want us poisened by food laden with preservatives and all things bad rather than healthy food.

  18. Hello tammi.
    After reading your story it was quite distressing to hear that this really could occur … to us all! Or any small business who aspire to create the best produce for its region, then in an instant , without any proven laboratory tests to provide evidence that in fact that an industry body primesafe has rightful concern, are allowed to destroy your private property… make us small businesses so vunrelable … as per your request we have shared via our fb, so other can show you support … it still amazes me how unstructured primesafe seems as an orginasation to operate the way it has. ACTING as if they where dealing with a national ebola outbreak, and lock down and destroy with out tests!!! All these verbal calls, but no facts written….just a so called customer claim!! Potentially fabricated. And did they expect you to have your own bin to destroy your products. A serious organisation should have given notice and have to return with disposal equipment and trucks…. they sound more like the mafia in the bootleg moonshine days… back by big business.

    Just not right. We will follow your story and hope a positive outcomes for all. As we wanted to see if we could collaborate with your farm and offer our home salami making customers who buy our meat mincers etc access to buy your pigs and course so they could get access to premium quality meat.

    Lets chat in the months to come, until then good luck. Regards Stefano. West melbourne

  19. I wonder why they left it to just before you were to go to France. I bet they timed it that way so you did not have the opportunity to legally stop them. My guess is the complainant was an put up to it by Coles or Woolworths. This one way they try to stop home manufacturers.

  20. Under Section 72(2)(b) an inspector cannot enter any place of residence. A shed used for domestic purposes would be part of a place of residence. What the inspector did was in contravention of the legislation. The destruction illegally of private property would be a crime in this situation of unauthorised entry.

  21. This is so sad.
    The joke of the situation is that these regulators have cracked down on small producers when the major problems that have occurred in the industry have come from the major commercial groups.
    Sadly though it is also these big companies that lobby the government and provide inducements. Little guys can’t compete in this environment.
    Keep fighting!

  22. This is an appalling act of Government regulation gone mad. How many people have suffered harm or illness from eating food produced by small ethically and environmentally friendly producers like the Jonas family? Nothing like the tens of thousands of people who have had their health destroyed eating heavily processed factory farmed and chemically loaded food with diabetes, allergies, obesity, heart disease etc. etc, etc…….. There is a huge demand for ethically and environmentally friendly produced food. We produce free range pasture fed saltbush lambs and can’t keep up with the demand. The Government should be supporting us, not persecuting us. Hope to visit your farm sometime Tammi.

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