Food for thought

Published On 21/05/2013 | By Hanna Gyton | Consumer protection

The Australian Greens Leader, Christine Milne, has introduced the new Competition and Consumer Amendment (Australian Country of Origin Food Labelling) Bill (Bill) aimed at simplifying food labelling requirements for country of origin claims within Australia.This is the Senator’s second shot at proposed reforms over issuing a private member bill with Adam Bandt MP in September 2012 (Private Members Bill).

The introduction of this new Bill into the Senate comes after much criticism of the current food labelling requirements under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) and the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (Code).  The Code sets out the minimum standards for the supply of food, requiring certain food products to identify the country of origin of the ingredients and where applicable, the country in which food was processed.  The ACL also prohibits misleading, deceptive or false representations about the country of origin of the ingredients.  These requirements have been labelled as confusing and misleading for consumers, with critics claiming many consumers are unable to determine the origin of their food.

Some of the key amendments contained in the Bill include:

  • the creation of a specific provision within the ACL to address country of origin claims with respect to food.  This would establish a single regulator regime for packaged and unpackaged food; while superseding the current country of origin requirements;
  • a limit on the range of labelling claims for packaged and unpackaged food to ‘Product of or Grown in Australia’, ‘Manufactured in Australia’ and ‘Packaged in Australia’.  The Bill also defines the meaning of key terms in country of origin labelling, providing consumers with a better understanding of what each of the three labelling claims refer to; and
  • the removal of the ability to make qualified claims, such as ‘Made from local and imported ingredients’.  The Bill proposes that such claims be replaced with ‘Packaged in Australia’, where minimal Australian processing has occurred.

Senator Milne hopes “the changes would mean consumers will be able to identify whether products are Australian grown or manufactured, and the misleading claims like ‘made from local and imported ingredients’ would be prohibited”.

CHOICE has welcomed the proposed amendments under the Bill, with many of the amendments reflecting CHOICE’s proposed reforms released earlier this year.  Christine Milne has publically recognised CHOICE’s campaign to reform country of origin food labelling, stating “I particularly want to thank CHOICE for their input which is strongly reflected in the bill.”

We now await the decision of the Senate.

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