Australia: Proposed changes to Australian Country of Origin Food Labelling

Last Updated: 24 February 2015
Article by Rosan Santangelo
Focus: Competition & Consumer Amendment (Australian Country of Origin Food Labelling) Bill 2015
Services: Competition & Consumer Law, Insurance, Intellectual property & technology

News coverage over the recent contamination scare involving frozen berries highlights widespread community concerns over imported produce. All major news outlets referenced the origin of the berries, not merely the fact that the produce may be the source of a risk to public health. It is fair to say that buying local and safe produce is more important than ever to Australians.

On Thursday 12 February 2015 Senator Milne tabled an explanatory memorandum regarding the Competition & Consumer Amendment (Australian Country of Origin Food Labelling) Bill 2015 (the Bill) and delivered the second reading speech for the Bill.

Industry groups and the Australian government have responded to the public's desire to access more information regarding the origin of produce. Food supply chains have transformed, as have production sites around the world, and people are concerned with more than volume or uniformity of food products. Australians are increasingly sophisticated consumers and food is just as much about status and politics as it is about satisfying hunger. Australian consumers demand quality food that is the product of regional ecologies and cultures.

There is strong public sentiment about the Bill which seeks to reform the designation and regulation of country of origin food labelling in Australia.

The second reading speech states:

"It is widely recognised that Australia's current country of origin labelling requirements for food are unsatisfactory and includes information that confuses and misleads consumers.... There are two parts to the amendments put forward in this Bill. The first enacts recommendation 41 of the Blewett Review, by creating a specific section in the Competition & Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) that deals solely with country of origin claims with regards to food."

The amendments will supersede the Food Standards Australia & New Zealand Act 1991.

The second part of the Bill embodies recommendations arising from the state inquiry into Senator Milne's private senator's Bill. These amendments extend country of origin food labelling requirements to all packaged and unpackaged food for retail sale and clarify and restrict the range of labelling to three kinds of claim.


  • the Bill will retain the well-established premium label of 'Product of Australia'; all the significant ingredients must be from and processing must have occurred in Australia in order to make this claim. For fresh unpackaged food, it allows for the use of 'Grown in Australia';
  • for food that has been manufactured in Australia, (that is substantially transformed - a term that is clarified by the Bill) it will require such packaged food to be labelled 'Manufactured in Australia'. This term is set to replace 'Made in Australia' to avoid confusing consumers over the origin of the food, as opposed to where it was processed;
  • the Bill will establish a third tier of labelling to deal with packaged food that does not have sufficient Australian content or processing. Currently, terms such as 'Made from imported and local ingredients' can be used. This Bill instead requires any packaged food that has some level of Australian processing or content, but that does not meet 'Product of' or 'Manufactured in' claims to simply say 'Packaged in Australia'.

Senator Milne concluded her speech by saying:

"For Australian farmers and food manufacturers, this Bill is urgent. As the news continues to be filled with stories of Australian food manufacturers going into administration or slashing their intake of local content, and as Australian farmers struggle to keep market share at home against a rising tide of cheap imports, it has never been more timely to help Australians identify and buy local food. It is time to act."

Surveys conducted by consumer group, CHOICE, are referenced in the second reading speech to illustrate that Australians care about where their food is grown and/or manufactured. Globally and locally there is an increased appreciation of the provenance of food which, in some countries, is discernible by brand name, trade mark or certification e.g. AOC or DOCG. The next step is promoting regionality in Australia. This will no doubt be more important over time, as will classifications which reflect local provenance. The individual characteristics and quality of produce may ultimately be referenced to region in addition to country of origin.

Growers, processors and retailers of food will need to be mindful of the changing regulatory environment to ensure they comply.

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.

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