Proposed changes to Australia’s Country of Origin Labelling system are a small step towards meaningful reform but fall short of giving Australian consumers information that genuinely identifies the true origins of a product’s ingredients.
The reforms, announced by the Government in July, include a mandatory requirement to display a diagram on Australian-manufactured food products that shows the proportion of Australian ingredients.
While this is an improvement on the current system, it also means that the only originating country that will be outlined on Australian-manufactured food products will be Australia. Consumers will not specifically know which ingredients are Australian, nor the specific originating countries of the non-
A 2012 survey conducted by consumer advocacy group CHOICE found that 71 per cent of respondents felt it was crucial or very important to know where food comes from. In AUSVEG’s view, the reforms do not give them that information. You could even argue that calling the proposed reforms a ‘Country of Origin Labelling’ system is misleading when you consider consumers will be none-the-wiser about the specific origins of specific ingredients.
Meaningful Country of Origin Labelling reform also needs to clarify some of the confusing information and terms that are provided to consumers on labels. AUSVEG has long called for the terms ‘Made from local and imported ingredients’ and ‘Made in Australia’ to be dropped, as they are ambiguous, confusing and provide no meaningful information about the origins of particular ingredients.
It is pleasing that the proposed reforms remove the term ‘Made from local and imported ingredients’. It is less pleasing, however, that ‘Made in Australia’ can still be used, when you consider just how confusing it is to consumers. This was highlighted by a video released by AUSVEG earlier this year, which showed how baffled everyday Australians were by the term.
The abovementioned CHOICE survey from 2014 also reinforced this, with only 12 per cent of respondents able to correctly identify the meaning of ‘Made in Australia’. While we note the Government’s proposal seeks to clarify the meaning of ‘Made in’, we remain of the view it should be scrapped altogether.
There are some sections of the business community who continue to oppose Country of Origin Labelling reform, claiming the cost of changing labels will be too high. This assertion does not stack up, particularly when you consider how readily and easily companies change packaging for promotion and marketing purposes. Such a flimsy excuse should not be allowed to hinder the implementation of more meaningful labelling reform. Indeed, many businesses would do well to heed the wishes of their customers and provide them with the country of origin information that they so clearly desire. That is unless of course they have something to hide.
In finishing, I would reiterate that the Government has taken a step in the right direction regarding food labelling, but the current proposal falls short of giving consumers what they want. With the Government confirming it will review its new system within two years, AUSVEG will continue pushing for the genuine Country of Origin Labelling system that Australians deserve.