Australian Greens bat for country-of-origin labelling

By Ankush Chibber

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Australia

Australian Greens bat for country-of-origin labelling
Australia’s pro-environment party has moved to introduce new laws designed to ensure that consumers are made aware of their food's country of origin. 

Christine Milne, leader of the Australian Greens, set in motion a new food-labelling bill through parliament on September 17, claiming it would help Australian farmers and and other food producers in the country.

Australians want to know

The Competition and Consumer Amendment (Australian Food Labelling) Bill 2012 aims to put in place new country-of-origin rules for food labelling based on where food is grown or produced, rather than where it is packaged or processed.

“Australians want to know where the food they buy to feed their families is actually grown, but they know they can't trust the current 'made-in' labels,”​ said Milne, adding that the current law is duping farmers because cheap imported food could masquerade as Australian-grown and compete unfairly.

We need to bring our food-labelling law under the Consumer Act, where it belongs, and base labelling criteria on the food's country of origin. Country-of-origin labelling will be good for farmers and good for consumers,”​ she continued.

“When they pick up a can of tomatoes with generic labels from Woolworth's or Coles, people don't know where the tomatoes in the can were grown. That is what people want to know and the current labelling doesn't tell them that."

This is in line with a recent survey, which reported that 40% of consumers find it difficult to identify whether a product is made in Australia, and only one in three are aware that an "Australian made" logo means that the product only needs to have been substantially produced or manufactured in the country. 

But the online survey of 1,200 adults also revealed that Australians have taken to cheaper imports in almost all categories, except for food products, as FoodNavigator-Asia reported this week.

The fine print

According to the draft of the bill, if passed it will create a specific section in the Competition and Consumer Act that will deal solely with country-of-origin claims with regard to foods.

It will also ensure that food labelling is based on the ingoing weight of the ingredients and components, excluding water.

The bill has not gone down well the food manufacturing companies with multinational operations, as these use neighboring and distant bases to serve the Australian market. 

The Australian Food and Grocery Council has said that the move by the Greens to change labelling laws completely ignores over 200,000 Australians, who are directly employed by the food processing industry. 

Will create confusion, loss of jobs

Gary Dawson, the council’s CEO, stated that the Greens’ proposed changes could create more confusion for consumers.

“By focusing purely on the source of ingredients, it completely ignores the vital jobs involved in food processing and manufacturing. Many of these jobs are in regional Australia, where every day food is being processed and packaged,”​ he said. 

Dawson claimed that the “Made in Australia” label gives consumers a reliable guide to both where the food was sourced and where it was processed.

“To restrict the label only to the source of the ingredients creates perverse outcomes where chocolates coming out of an Australian confectionary plant could not be labelled Made in Australia because the cocoa was imported,”​ he said.

“Or worse, if Australian primary produce is shipped overseas, goes through a manufacturing plant and is shipped back to Australia, it could potentially carry a Made from Australian Ingredients claim even though the processing and jobs were offshore,”​ he added. 

The good news?

The only good news about the bill for food manufacturers is that the Greens do not really dominate Australian lawmaking—they have one seat in the 150-seat House of Representatives and nine in the 76-seat Senate.  

Is this legislation really necessary or is there a happy medium to appease both camps? Let us know your views in the comments below.

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