Reform of Australian Country of Origin Food Labelling Laws

  • 6 Apr 2016

The Commonwealth and State Consumer Affairs Ministers have agreed to reform country of origin labelling for food to give Australian consumers clearer and more meaningful information about the source of the food they buy. The reforms are expected to commence from 1 July 2016 and business will have a two year transition period to bed down the new arrangements.

The reforms will mean that most foods produced for retail sale in Australia, which are either made, produced or grown in Australia, will be required to include a kangaroo in a triangle logo to indicate the Australian connection and bar chart and words indicating the proportion of Australian ingredients by weight (see above samples).

The phrases “grown in” and “produced in” will indicate that all of the ingredients are Australian and that major processing occurred in Australia.

Made in” means that the food underwent its “last substantial transformation” in that country. If the food is made in Australia, the labelling must display a kangaroo logo, the words “Made in Australia”, a bar chart and a statement as to the percentage of ingredients of the food by weight that are Australian (again, see above samples).

Provision will be made for averaging the proportion of ingredients where the sources of ingredients vary from country to country.

A new information standard will be produced under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) for country of origin labelling which will replace the current mandatory labelling requirements outlined in the Australia New Zealand Foods Standards Code (the Food Code).

Australia’s current legal framework for country of origin labelling comprises the Food Code, the ACL and the Commerce (Imports) Regulations 1940 made for the purposes of the Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act 1905. Country of origin labelling will now be regulated only through the ACL.

The new requirements will only apply to food offered for retail sale in Australia and will not apply to food sold in places like restaurants, cafes, take‑away outlets or schools. The most stringent requirements will be for “priority foods” requiring a logo, bar chart and text in a box but these will only be optional for non‑priority foods which will only require a text statement of origin on their label. Non‑priority foods include seasonings, confectionary, biscuits and snack food, bottled water, soft drinks and sports drinks, tea and coffee, and alcoholic beverages. All other foods are priority foods.

It will be mandatory to use the “grown in Australia” kangaroo logo if food was grown, produced or made in Australia. If any ingredients are Australian a bar chart and a text statement in a box will actually specify the percentage of Australian ingredients, for instance “made in Australia from at least 50% Australian ingredients” or “made in Australia from less than 10% Australian ingredients” or “made in Australia from imported ingredients”.

Food is “substantially transformed” in a country if the end product is something fundamentally different from its ingredients. For instance the claim “made in” cannot be used for imported ingredients that are only subject to minor processes such as slicing, freezing, canning, bottling, crumbing, reconstituting or packing.

If a food in a package originated from one country (that is to say was grown produced or made in one country), but was packed in another, the label must clearly state the country where it was grown, produced or made. Stating where it was packed would be optional.  Where food in a package comes from multiple countries, a label like “packed in France from imported ingredients” could be used.  For “packed in Australia” claims, the standard label would not include the kangaroo symbol as the food is not of Australian origin.  However it might still contain some Australian ingredients and have undergone some processing in Australia but it does not meet the criteria to make a grown, produced or made in Australia claim and for instance could be shown on a label as “packed in Australia from at least 70% Australian ingredients” or “packed in Australia from imported ingredients”.

The new labelling requirements will have minimal impact on food imported to Australia which will continue to be required to be labelled with the country of origin for instance “product of Thailand”, or “made in France” and would need to meet the new rules around “made in” and “packed in” claims.

For priority foods importers will be required to show the country of origin claim in a box on the label so it can easily be found by consumers. They will not be allowed to use the kangaroo symbol as the product is not of Australian origin and hence could say something like “produced in Germany” or “made in Malaysia from at least 50% Australian ingredients”.

The Commonwealth Government proposes to introduce style guides and develop an online self‑assessment tool specifically for businesses to help them identify their new labels. Businesses will be able to download their new labels using this tool which will be available before the commencement of the Information Standard under the ACL.

Post by Derek Luxford 

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