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
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
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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