New Country of Origin labels cause controversy

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While the overall consensus is that the new label designs are better than the old, not everyone is completely satisfied.

On Tuesday (21 July), the government revealed the long-awaited proposed Country of Origin Labelling designs.

As to be expected, The Australian Made Campaign is pleased with the new system, which incorporates the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo (for those products made and grown in Australia), with the addition of a bar chart showing what proportion of ingredients come from Australia.

“The new system will help consumers make informed choices based on the ‘Australianness’ of products,” Australian Made Campaign Chief Executive, Ian Harrison, said.

“A greater number of growers and manufacturers using the logo will further strengthen its impact for the benefit of both consumers and producers,” Mr Harrison said.

But Consumer advocacy group CHOICE says the new scheme will still leave many consumers wondering where their food comes from.

“Unfortunately, the new system looks less useful for consumers wanting information about any of the 195 countries that are not Australia. For example, claims such as ‘Made in Australia from more than 50% Australian ingredients’ will have you asking if your frozen berries come from China, Canada or Chile,” says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey

“The new system leaves it up to the manufacturers to voluntarily declare the origin of a product’s main ingredient.

“CHOICE is deeply concerned that global trade agreements might have provided an excuse to deny consumers the full picture of where their food comes from, especially at a time when agreements like the TPP are being finalised in secret.

There was concern that over-regulating CoOL requirements could penalise Australian food exporters from trading on the “brand Australia” – particularly popular in Asian markets.

Australia also has an agreement with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that requires that any technical measures (such as origin labelling) not to discriminate against imported products and be based upon demonstrated need for regulation. This means, that any changes to CoOL must not be more trade-restrictive than necessary to fulfil its objective; to inform.

Aussie Farmers Direct is also not entirely satisfied with the new system.

“While Aussie Farmers Direct does not believe any food or grocery line with less than 90 per cent of Aussie ingredients should be associated with the ‘Made in Australia’ label, the new labelling at least gives clarity around the percentage of local ingredients and will help customers make an informed decision, said Keith Louie, Aussie Farmers Direct CEO.                                                                                        

The proposed new ‘contents symbol’ will be mandatory for most (but not all) food products and the roll-out will commence next year – following consultation with the States and Territories – with a phased implementation period for small business.

The new labelling will apply to those food categories which consumers and the community indicated they were most interested in country of origin food labelling – this was mainly fresh produce or minimally processed foods, these include:

  • Fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts
  • Meat, poultry and seafood
  • Eggs and dairy products (eg. milk, butter, cheese)
  • Deli products and cured meats (eg. salami, ham, bacon)
  • Fruit and vegetable juices
  • Canned/dried/packaged fruit and vegetables
  • Canned/packaged and frozen ‘ready to eat’ meals (eg. tinned soup, frozen meals)
  • Baked goods (e.g bread, muffins, cakes)
  • Meal bases, dressings and sauces (eg. salad dressings, pasta and stir-fry sauce)
  • Cereals and muesli bars
  • Cooking ingredients (flour and sugar)
  • Rice, noodles and pasta
  • Jams and spreads (eg. peanut butter and honey)

Sectors making foods not included in the list may use it the new food labels voluntarily.

For more information on the new system, click here.