Following months of consultation and review of over 700 submissions from the public and industry, the Panel conducting the Independent Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy, released its final report, Labelling Logic earlier this year. The report includes 61 recommendations to improve food labelling law and policy in Australia and New Zealand.
Although a decision on the acceptance of the recommendations by the Federal Government is not expected before the end of the year, industry participants would be well advised to become familiar with the recommendations as soon as possible, as, if implemented, they will not only change what consumers see on food labels, but also significantly increase industry participants' compliance obligations and costs.
1. Background and Scope
The Review Panel, commissioned by the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council, headed by Dr Neal Blewett AC, undertook a 15 month comprehensive examination of food labelling law and policy. The Review Panel completed two rounds of public consultation before releasing the report.
The report considers a range of issues such as the role of food labelling in addressing population health priorities, and the extent to which information about food ingredients, production processes, manufacturing technologies and the presence of additives and allergens should be declared on food labels.
The report is divided into a food labelling issues hierarchy, in descending order, of:
- Food safety;
- Preventative health;
- New technologies; and
- Consumer values issues.
These issues are categorised from high to low risk with the level of proposed government intervention being greater for the higher risk issues.
2. Key Proposed Changes
Most of the recommendations made are in relation to food labelling. One of the key recommendations includes mandatory front of pack traffic light labelling for products which contain general or high level health claims which will see packages feature a red, amber or green marking for key nutrients. Products with higher fat or sugar content would get a red mark, with products with a green mark identified as a healthier option.
Another significant proposal is that alcohol, including so called alco-pops, be clearly marked with their energy count. At present, alcohol suppliers are not required to provide energy labelling. 2.
Other changes proposed include:
- a requirement to declare the energy content of standardised items on the menu/menu boards in fast food chains and on vending machines;
- changes to the mandatory Nutrition Information Panel, including the inclusion of total and naturally occurring fibre, inclusion of trans-fats, clarification of salt content and the removal of the 'per serve' column;
- certain nutrition, health, related claims will be permitted;
- the development of a comprehensive Nutrition Policy as part of a broader National Food Policy;
- mandatory requirements for country-of-origin labelling on all food products be provided for in a specific consumer product information standard for food under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth), rather than in the Food Standards;
- for foods bearing some form of Australian claim e.g. 'Made in Australia', a consumer-friendly, food specific country of origin labelling framework, based primarily on the ingoing weight of the ingredients and components (excluding water), be developed. Currently the test is whether the product has been 'substantially transformed' in Australia, rather than it being ingredient based;
- the individual disclosure of palm oil, milk fat, fructose and other specific types of vegetable oils, fats and sugars, rather than the broad declaration of 'vegetable oils', 'added fats, 'added sugars';
- warning and advisory statements including allergens be emboldened;
- genetically modified ingredients be disclosed on the label;
- applications for trade names and trade marks be scrutinised by the relevant agencies to identify and reject words that have the effect of inferring health implications e.g. Healthy Cereal Pty Limited;
- the provision of health warnings on alcohol labels; and
- the monitoring and enforcement of food labelling requirements be considered equally important as other aspects of the Food Standards Code and the responsible agencies be given the appropriate level of resources to meet their obligations.
3. What should industry participants be doing now?
If accepted by the Government the recommendations are likely to lead to an increase in enforcement at federal, state/territory and local government levels, heightened compliance costs for businesses, and more pressure on the food industry to provide healthy products.
While the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing will work in conjunction with other Commonwealth Government Departments and the Council to develop a whole of government response to the recommendations (which is not expected until December 2011), and there may be a transition period to enable industry to become compliant, it would be prudent for industry participants to: 3.
- become familiar with the recommendations and their requirements;
- identify how those recommendations will affect their business;
- seek advice as to what steps would be needed to ensure compliance with the recommendations; and
- take preliminary steps to implement some of the recommendations, prior to the government response.
For further information about the report or any other food law queries, contact:
Truman Hoyle Lawyers
Tel: +61 2 9226 9837
Fax: +61 2 9226 9899
Truman Hoyle is a Sydney based law firm serving the new economy industries across the Asia Pacific region. Australasian Legal Business has recently ranked the firm's Telecommunications, Media & Technology and Intellectual Property practices as top-tier in Sydney. The firm was named Australian Law Firm of the Year in 2005 and again in 2006, for firms with 50 lawyers or less. In 2009 our firm was awarded the prestigious ACOMM Award for Professional Services Excellence at the annual Australian telecommunications industry awards.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.