Update. Original released, Sunday, March 4th, 2012

On Sunday morning, an article in The Sunday Age alleged that produce from CERES Organic Farms was contaminated.

CERES Fair Food was established to better connect people with some of Victoria’s best organic producers. Produce sourced by CERES Fair Food comes from certified organic farms, which are subject to strict certification criteria relating to pesticides and other chemicals.

Our members have never been exposed to potential health risks associated with lead contaminants. A small proportion of our produce is sourced from CERES Merri Creek Farm (Harding Street), which is also certified organic. This site has never even been in question. As a precaution, independent laboratory tests of the Merri Creek Farm were commissioned by CERES in November, and showed no abnormalities.

CERES is currently compiling a full online release of the results, which will provide access to raw data, as well as independent statutory standards with which to interpret the results. It will be made available as soon as possible through the main CERES website.

The Age article has caused some confusion with the members of CERES Fair Food, regarding the safety of produce grown in the CERES Honey Lane Market Garden and community garden plots.

The facts of the matter are as follows:

In August 2011, CERES management was made aware of a study completed by tertiary students that had found elevated levels of lead in some produce samples collected from the Honey Lane Market Garden on the main site.

As soon as this data came to light, CERES Community Environment Park immediately withdrew all produce grown at the CERES Honey Lane Market Garden from sale. CERES also commissioned independent laboratory testing of soil and produce to check the students’ findings, as CERES was not aware of the validity of the methodology used.

The tests revealed normal levels in the CERES Honey Lane Market Garden where produce for sale onsite at CERES is sourced.

The only sample showing results slightly higher than the Australia New Zealand Food Standards related to a single Community Garden plot. These plots do not and have never produced food for public consumption. CERES has worked closely with the community gardeners throughout this process, and has openly provided information, feedback and support in a timely manner.

The matter was also referred to the Moreland City Council that in December also  commissioned testing of Honey Lane, the Community Garden plots and other areas of CERES. The results have yet to be officially reported and CERES is waiting to receive this advice in writing.

For a full statement issued by the CERES Chairperson Robert Larocca, please click here.

If you have any queries, please contact Robert Larocca, CERES Chairperson at Robert_Larocca@yahoo.com.au or 0409 198 350.

30 Responses

  1. It makes you mad that the Age could get it wrong just to sensationalise the story. It made me wonder about a conspiracy actually – Ceres are underselling the other organic retailers … But I guess I’ve just got a suspicious mind. Anyway I’m relieved to read your version, and didn’t feel at all under threat. I hope everyone else will still feel positive about it. It’s such a wonderful service! Keep up the good work!

  2. I saw the article this morning. I could see that it was being taken out of context as I was reading it. It really is a shame that now many potential new customers might get the wrong idea. Poor journalism.

  3. We are also looking forward to our fruit and veg box this week! We love it, and our two children always look forward to a fruit ‘surprise’ when we pick up the box.

  4. I read the article, and although I don’t purchase fresh produce from CERES, I do get most of my plants from the nursery….it did make me wonder whether there was any concern (or, after reading this release, if there were any tests done?) regarding plants propagated on site?

  5. There are many corporate speak in that media release but it actually says that food grown on the CERES site has been identified as contaminated on two occasions so far. Come on people, wouldn’t you be cynical if the same words were released by Coles or Woolies? Just because everyone acts nice and rides a bike doesn’t mean they won’t lie and dissemble.

  6. Another indication of how journalism loves to sensationalise a story and ensure that the public are given the correct information. Diassapoinging. Clearly news would not sell unless it was sensationalised. Hopefully the public are wiser and further research.

  7. I have been very impressed by the quantity, quality and price of the organic food my family and I purchased so far, but obviously I would not appreciate the food being contaminated. Could you please let me know the second round of results in the community gardens?

    It would also help a lot if we get information about where each type of fruit and vegetables come from.

    I really hope this issue is resolved with honesty and care because I believe that Ceres is a very important player towards making a better future for Australians.

  8. Thank you all for your kind words of support and encouragement.

    Our Chairperson has released a statement on the main CERES website and I refer to comments made regarding the test results when I quote:

    “The results from the final series of tests in the community garden plots have yet to be reported to CERES. However, CERES has been verbally advised that the EPA is not classing CERES as a contaminated site and there is no public health risk. CERES is now waiting to receive this advice in writing.”

    http://ceres.org.au/content/ceres-community-environment-park-responds-incorrect-soil-contamination-accusations

    The community garden plots do not produce food for public consumption. CERES Fair Food has not and does not source produce from the areas in question. Please refer to the above article to read in more detail the approach that was taken with respect to the community garden plots.

    Thank you again for your support.

    The Fair Food Team

  9. Whilst not a box subscriber, we support CERES & CERES Fair food.

    The Age Article is very disapointing and I have let the Editor know my views about the article. I encourage others to do the same. The issue of contaminated soils in Melbourne and food production is relevant and valid and The Age has missed an opportunity to help spread awareness of the risk and additionally the simple things people can do to minimise the risk.

    Cheers,
    Martin Pritchard

    South Melbourne Commons / Friends of the Earth
    http://www.commons.org.au http://www.foe.org.au

  10. We will continue to stand by CERES Environment Park. There have been many incidents of lying from The Age, I certainly don’t trust them. i note no other media picked up the story. How disgraceful. PS if The Age had subbies I wonder if this would have even ran?

  11. So happy that my friend informed me of this media release. Thought I could trust The Age, at least more than other news sources.

  12. I had no idea the Age had published this story at all, so thanks for keeping me informed =) In fact is poor journalism like this that turns me off reading newspapers or watching the news. I always do my own research after hearing/reading something like this as I simply don’t trust journos at all.
    cheers to Ceres & keep up the excellent work!

  13. I have canceled my subscription to the Age.
    I will not stand for lies and hurtful comments about my favorite park .
    Boycott the age and its lies .

  14. If CERES and La Rocca’s is in fact the truth, will you be asking for the Age to print a retraction? Otherwise, I think it would be prudent to publish some evidence that food purchased from CERES is safe.

    I’m a long time subscriber to Fair Food but this is worrying and nothing in either the statement from CERES or from Mr La Rocca is proof that there isn’t an issue.

  15. After reading The Age’s article I was suprised to learn that Robert Larocca is in fact the Ceres chairman.

    You see Mr Larocca is a former Moreland City Councillor and the director of the Real Estate Institute of Victoria, whose opinions on property are regularly quoted in The Age.

    Given his backgound in property and development he’d be well aware of the significant land value of the Ceres estate.

    Perhaps Mr Larocca’s own interests as a real estate advocate are at odds with those of Ceres?

    I realise how far fetched this must sound but still, it did make me think…

  16. Lead is apparently less dangerous than what they put in unleaded pete these days. And compared to what Monsanto is doing to our food, I’d say we have bigger health concerns to fight.

  17. Please ask The Age to publish a clarification.
    Many thanks for your fine work. Don’t give up; we love you and our produce.

  18. I would not be surprised if food grown at Ceres is contaminated – it was a waste dump after all. Which is more to the point; if we continue to dump rubbish everywhere, our food is/will be contaminated. I wish the Age would angle it that way.
    As a fair foodie I am sorry to hear only a small portion of our food comes from such a local source. Perhaps to connect with the actual source we could organise harvest festivals (big table meal) at the farms with the farms. Go out by a bus, buy tickets when we order our food, spend some time at the farm with the farmers … just an idea and I know it is not the point of discussion… sorry.
    I will still fair food even if the produce is contaminated as the reason I like organics is because it cares for the environment which Ceres does regardless of test results. Visiting Ceres feels good I know it is a good thing.
    PS Lead poison levels can be tested in a sample of hair, done by natropaths and at NIIM

  19. Could someone please point me to the part in the article that was taken out of conext? And which part some are describing as lies?

    Ceres chairman Robert Larocca said: ”The irony is not lost on me. It is unfortunate it has happened and we are sorry for that. A very small number of people will have purchased that [contaminated food], including myself.”

    Did he say it or not?
    As a long time regular at CERES I would have much preferred to get this information from them in December, rather than find out about it in a newspaper article 4 months later.

  20. Ben, I’m not a Ceres employee, but from following the issue I believe Robert made those comments around two months ago after the tertiary students’ results came back. The reporter did not contact Ceres and find out that subsequent lab tests suggest that the produce from Honey Lane does not have elevated lead levels.

  21. OK thank you for clarifying. The Age should have followed this up before publishing if the only info they had was that old.
    Even so, I still feel that CERES should have notified customers much earlier. This must be damamging for them, they could have avoided it by being upfront about the tests in the first place.

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