Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Government plans ‘Australianness’ food labelling scheme

The federal Government has proposed a new country-of-origin food-labelling system that incorporates a bar chart showing what proportion of ingredients come from Australia, and will also include – for those products made and grown in Australia – the Australian Made, Australian Grown kangaroo logo.

Australian Made Campaign CEO Ian Harrison has welcomed the Government initiative to help consumers quickly and easily identify Australian.

“The Australian Made Campaign contributed significant input during the development of this proposal and looks forward to working with the Government to efficiently and effectively implement the new scheme,” he said.

“The new system will help consumers make informed choices based on the ‘Australianness’ of products.”

The proposed new ‘contents symbol’ will be mandatory for most (but not all) food products, with the rollout to begin next year following consultation with the states and territories – with a phased implementation period for small business.

The Government is also encouraging food manufacturers to provide more information on the origin of significant ingredients.

Australian Food and Grocery Council CEO Gary Dawson says the new labelling rules are recognition of the importance of Australian jobs in the food production and processing sector.

“The retention of the term ‘Made in Australia’ and wider use of the well-known ‘Australian Made’ logo underlines the value of the more than 300,000 jobs in Australia’s food and grocery processing sector, with almost half of those jobs in rural and regional areas,” he said.

“It will be important for the Government, during the implementation phase, to understand the cost, complexity and additional red tape that these changes will impose, with the burden falling hardest on small business and those companies affected by seasonal variations in their sourcing.

“A flexible and practical approach, focused on the information that is most valued by consumers, will be essential during the transitional phase.”

While consumer advocacy group Choice say it welcomes the scheme, it has raised concerns that consumers will be unsure about where their food comes from.

“The federal Government has taken a big step towards ending the confusion around country-of-origin labelling, especially for consumers who want to know how much of a product is manufactured or grown locally,” Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said.

“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 per cent Australian ingredients’ will have you asking if your frozen berries come from China, Canada or Chile.”

Choice is also concerned that 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 [Trans Pacific Partnership] are being finalised in secret,” Mr Godfrey said.

“We urge food manufacturers to be more transparent about the origin of their ingredients and take on board the option to list the main ingredients of their products.”

Horticultural body AUSVEG has welcomed some elements of the labelling reforms, but has voiced concern that the measures are not mandatory for specific countries of origin of imported ingredients contained in Australian-manufactured food products to be displayed on labels.

“We note the Government has indicated it will investigate online platforms and digital options as a means of providing more information on product ingredients, but this is a woefully inadequate substitute for a genuine system that identifies the country of origin of key ingredients on labels,” AUSVEG CEO Richard Mulcahy said.

“Unless the countries of origin of a product’s key ingredients are printed on food packaging rather than expressed via a smartphone app, or online, older Australians will be unable to make informed purchasing decisions.”

“While the reforms unveiled by the Government are a step in the right direction, we feel further action needs to be taken to give consumers the precise information about the origins of the food they are eating that they so clearly desire.”

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