Mandatory food origin labelling begins

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will begin monitoring country of origin food labelling in Australia from Sunday, when a new multi-tiered labelling system comes into force.

Until now, the ACCC has been providing guidance to businesses on the application of the Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standards which were introduced into Australia in 2016.

New country of origin labels will have to be applied to most food sold in stores, markets, online and in vending machines but not to food sold in restaurants, cafés, takeaway shops or schools.

Food that was packaged and labelled on or before Saturday can still be sold without the new labels.

WA raw organic honey producer Kim Fewster, of Fewster’s Farm, welcomes the labelling but says it doesn’t go far enough.

“If it’s more than 25 per cent of a product it should state which country it’s come from,” Fewster says.

“In honey, a lot of producers blend with imported products and people want to know whether the product comes from China, Indonesia or wherever, mostly for health reasons.”

Fewster says cheap imported honey from Asia, which was often packaged to look Australian, has crucified the local market and carried a risk from chemicals used in production.

It also had a higher sugar level than local honey.

“They’re allowed to have 5 per cent sucrose in their honey whereas our naturally occurring honey has just 0.02 per cent,” says Fewster.

What will the labelling mean?

Where a food has not been grown, produced or made in a single country it will have to display a label identifying where it was packed.

For Australian food, that to be labelled ‘grown in’ or ‘produced in’ must mean that all ingredients are Australian and major processing happened here.

The label ‘made in’ means the food must have undergone its last substantial transformation in Australia. Not all the ingredients need to be Australian but it must have undergone major processing here.

Food that does not need a label includes:

  • Pet food
  • Food sold at fundraisers
  • Food sold where it is made and packed (e.g. bakeries)

The ACCC says enforcement begins on Sunday.

“We are entering the compliance phase where we are making sure businesses are presenting accurate information about country of origin to their customers,” ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said.

What will the ACCC be looking for?

Initially, food inspectors would focus on fresh and short-shelf supermarket products. While warnings would be delivered for non-compliance, stronger action could also be taken, Keogh warned.

This was to protect customers who were willing to pay more if they believed a product was locally sourced.

“Producers and importers should be aware that any claim which is likely to mislead consumers will also be a breach of the law,” Keogh said.

IGA in the Wheatbelt town of Narembeen has labels on order and Manager Graham Hills says the task of ensuring everything is labelled will most likely take place on Friday or early Sunday.

“My wife, Tash, she does all the printing of the labels and we’ve got to label everything we wrap up, like half cabbages,” Hills said.

He wasn’t expecting any change to customers’ shopping habits.

“I don’t think it will make any difference at all,” Hill said.

“As long as it’s fresh and good quality customers don’t seem to mind where it comes from.”

The ACCC says core foods like meat, seafood, vegetables and most dairy products that are grown, produced or made in Australia will need to display:

  • A kangaroo in a triangle
  • A bar chart showing the proportion of Australian ingredients
  • Descriptive text about the ingredients.

Those foods deemed non-core, such as soft drinks, biscuits and seasonings, will be required to exhibit text only.

“We just want to ensure that consumers can make informed choices and businesses have a level playing field to compete fairly in relation to these claims,” Keogh said.

Further information on Country of Origin Food Labelling Standards, as well as an online tool to assist with determining which food should be labelled which way can be found on the ACCC website.

Need help growing your business internationally? Talk to a CCI trade consultant on (08) 9365 7620 or visit CCI’s International Trade and Investment Centre to find out how we can help you expand your business.

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