Greens push for new Country of Origin Labelling scheme

By Michael Wong

FoodLegal Lawyers and Consultants    

© Lawmedia Pty Ltd, August 2012 

The Australian Greens have proposed a Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) Bill to be introduced into Federal Parliament. The new Bill will, in effect, create a new CoOL scheme for Australia. This article examines the key features of the Bill and some of the regulatory background and alternatives being advocated.

Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne has foreshadowed a new Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) Bill to be introduced into Federal Parliament by the Greens.

The proposed Accurate Country of Origin Labelling for Food (Competition and Consumer Act Amendment) Bill 2012 will be introduced with a view to changing the Food Standards Code and Part 5-3 of the Competition and Consumer Act to create “a new, clear food-specific” country of origin labelling framework. The labels will be based on ingoing weight of ingredients and components, as recommended by the Blewett Report into Food Labelling (2011).

The Blewett Report’s recommendations on Country of Origin Labelling were rejected by the government.

The new bill will specify the following standards for country of origin food labelling:

  •  ‘Made of Australian Ingredients’: at least 90% by weight (excluding water) of all ingredients or components of Australian origin (the current standard for the ‘Australian Made and Grown logo);
  • ‘Grown in Australia’; for foods wholly grown in Australia;
  • Removing of the use of ‘Made in’ as a stand-alone claim in reference to Australian foods;
  • Prohibiting use of ‘Product of Australia’ for foods to avoid confusion as this standard is also applied to non-food items;
  • Retaining existing mandatory labelling requirements for fresh meat and vegetables;
  • Providing clear stipulations for the use of logos associated with premium claims on the front of packages and plain English terms for on the back of food packaging, including minimum font sizes.

The Premium standards of 90% ‘Made of Australian Ingredients’ and ‘Grown in Australia’ would be derived from an agreed average to allow for fluctuations in supply so that the label would not be required to change if an Australian ingredient is unavailable despite the producer’s best efforts.

Current Australian ‘Country of Origin’ Label requirements

Under current laws ‘Made in Australia’ and ‘Australian Made’ can legally be used where the food in question has been transformed, and 50% or more of the transformation costs were incurred here.

The terms ‘Made in Australia’ and ‘Australian Made’ are not really about the origin of the food content, they are largely about the process it underwent to get produced and packaged. 

A survey by peak consumer group CHOICE reported by Australian Food News found that only half actually understood what the current terms ‘Australian Made’ and ‘Made in Australia’ mean, and 90% said that country of origin labelling needs  to be clearer.

The Blewett Report

The Greens have said that they had considered the Blewett Report and accepted its key recommendation of basing country of origin labelling standards on the dry weight of ingredients.

However, the Greens said that they do not want to adopt the Report’s recommendation for a graduated scale of labelling based on percentage of Australian content as it simply replaces one complicated system that confounds consumers with another.

The Greens had a bill before the previous parliament which called for only those products 100% made in Australia to use the made in Australia claim. However, after feedback from the Senate inquiry that the 100% threshold was too onerous, the Greens are proposing a new “simple and clear premium claim” in this new bill.

FoodLegal Bulletin has previously discussed Australia’s Country of origin Labelling scheme, its ambiguities and lack of effectiveness in informing the needs of consumers.

One of our previous articles published  on11 May 2011 on How mandatory should country-of-origin labelling be? considered the merits of  voluntary Country of Origin arrangements that operate in New Zealand. A voluntary scheme can provide an unambiguous situation where the Country of Origin labels are viewed by consumers as a premium claim. By contrast, any mandatory CoOL schemes seem destined to be compromised by ambiguous labels that are less than helpful to consumers. 

This is general information rather than legal advice and is current as of 12 Dec 2015. We therefore recommend you seek legal advice for your particular circumstances if you want to rely on advice or information to be a basis for any commercial decision-making by you or your business.