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Issue #1641      June 4, 2014

Save FASS Food Testing Laboratory

The HSU has taken the campaign to save the Food Testing Laboratory of the Forensic and Analytical Science Service (FASS) Food Testing Laboratory at Lidcombe and the jobs of 17 highly qualified scientists right to the doorstep of Parliament House after receiving no response from the government on the issue.

Photo: Linda

Members are furious that the Minister for Health and Minister for Resources and Primary Industries have refused to meet with delegations of affected workers. They are still waiting for questions put to the Minister for Health by Member for Auburn, Barbara Perry, to be answered. The Greens have put forward a motion to protect the lab from privatisation. The HSU has now requested a peak level meeting with the Director General of Health, the Chief Executive of NSW Health Pathology and the Chief Executive Officer of the NSW Food Authority. However at the time of writing they are still awaiting a response.

“We have exhausted all avenues in trying to contact those in power but none have responded leaving us no option but to bring it to their doorstep,” organiser Glen Pead said. “The closure of the FASS food testing lab means the safety of the food you eat is at risk.”

On Tuesday April 15 the 17 staff working in FASS were told that their lab would be closing. NSW Health Pathology has decided to discontinue testing for the NSW Food Authority and cancel their current contract. The NSW Food Authority would be putting the work out to tender and FASS would not be tendering for it.

The history of this food testing laboratory goes back 120 years. The public health workers of the NSW FASS provide rigorous and independent testing, ensuring the safety of the food we all eat. This is now proposed to be left to the private market, where market failure could have fatal consequences.

This proposal puts NSW out of step with all other states, ignores the fundamental reasons for having a government testing authority, and turns its back on best practice. One of the more important elements to having a government laboratory is that they do not have any private interests to protect so theirs is based solely on results – there is no conflict of interest. The testing carried out by these labs is of the highest standard and they pride themselves on their accuracy and precision. The regular monitoring of environmental and food samples ensures that hygiene levels, chemical additives and general consumer interests are taken care of.

Scientist David Bruce says it’s the thin edge of the wedge for scientists. “So many jobs have been lost in NSW over the past few years. Well trained people with a wealth of knowledge, it’s an absolute tragedy.

These are highly motivated people who believe in the work they do and they are being thrown on the scrap heap.

There are not a lot of places for us to go – it will be very difficult for these highly skilled people to find other jobs and that is a sad state of affairs for all involved.”

HSU Secretary Gerard Hayes told members that this was just another example of what this government is prepared to do.

“They want to privatise everything that is functional and responsible and put it into the private sector where it is cheap.”

“This is an independent body that oversees very important work and that cannot be jeopardised. We will go forward with this campaign as part of an even wider campaign across the state. We have 31,000 members who will speak as one and who will let it be known that we are not going to allow privatisation of any service at all.

“The NSW Ministry of Health is prepared to see this important service dismantled with testing being moved to less rigorous private providers. The public need to join this fight to preserve clean and safe food and water.”

Next article – Solidarity protests on Christmas Island

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