CoOL change for Aussie consumers

30 Oct, 2014 03:00 AM
If it’s providing more clarity ... I think Australian farmers will be happy

A PARLIAMENTARY inquiry has recommended changes to current Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) arrangements for food products, to help resolve consumer confusion over manufacturing and the actual ingredients.

Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industries inquiry and South Australian Liberal, Rowan Ramsey, says the changes will be welcomed by discerning consumers and Australian farmers.

The inquiry started in March after being referred to the committee by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane.

Its key aim was to investigate whether the current system for food labelling provides enough information for Australian consumers to make informed purchasing decisions and whether Australian laws are being complied with.

The report was tabled recently, making eight recommendations including changing current CoOL 'safe harbours'.

Mr Ramsey said the major recommendations concerned splitting manufacturing and contents into separate label headings, or entities, to help identify the food product’s composition.

The report said current food labelling claims go to production or manufacturing rather than actual content.

“Another key recommendation was to make the wording which identifies the food product’s country of origin 25 per cent bigger”

“A food product with a ‘Made in Australia’ label will ‘not necessarily contain Australian ingredients’, though the Department of Industry stated it would be ‘surprising’ if the requirements of the safe harbour could be met without any Australian contents in the food product,” it said.

Mr Ramsey said the current safe harbour descriptor of ‘Made in Australia, from locally and imported produce’ doesn’t provide enough information to track the product’s authenticity.

“We want to keep that part of the value but then we want to be able to say, ‘Made in Australia from Australian contents or Italian tomatoes or just imported ingredients’,” he said.

Mr Ramsey said the key recommendations also allow a label to say, ‘90 per cent made in Australia from Australian contents’, or ‘50 per cent made in Australia from mainly Australian contents’.

A level below that would say ‘made in Australia from Taiwanese tomatoes’ for example.

“Using the same words all the way down the line gives consistency to consumers and they will be able to clearly identify the language because clearly they can’t identify what it means at the moment,” he said.

Mr Ramsey said another key recommendation was to make the wording which identifies the food product’s country of origin 25 per cent bigger than the surrounding text, on the final printed label.

He said if manufacturers see a perceived market advantage in saying ‘This product is 100 per cent Australian’ they already do it and the committee’s recommendations won’t stop that happening.

“We’ll be encouraging them to do exactly the same thing as they are now,” he said.

“But where they fall back on these safe harbour descriptors, the ‘Made in Australia from local imported ingredients for instance’, these changes are going to provide more clarity around something that’s very obscure.

“Now if it’s providing more clarity and more consumers can make a decision on the shop floor about supporting Australian, I think Australian farmers will be happy.”

Hope for real change

Mr Ramsey said he was “very hopeful” the recommendations would be acted on by government and implemented.

“Some of the inquiries that have gone before this one - particularly the Blewett Review – were very wide and sweeping across many areas,” he said.

“But we managed to keep this inquiry very narrow and just focussed on country of origin food labelling and because of that, it’s something that governments can digest.

“Because the (recommended) changes are relatively minor for the manufacturers, we won’t see too much resistance there either.

“There will be some disappointment from some parts of the industry who would basically like to see some protective tariffs put in place - but that wasn’t the committee’s role.

“We were actually looking at providing information for consumers so they can make more informed purchasing decisions” he said.

“Not every consumer, but a significant percentage of them, want to know and want to make a decision in favour of Australian farmers and or manufacturers.”

Mr Ramsey said he’d now discuss the report’s contents with the relevant ministers - Mr Joyce and Mr Macfarlane - and Small Business Minister Bruce Billson.

He said if concerns about CoOL aren’t addressed now, “it’s a problem that’s not going to go away”.

“It’s one of those issues that just bubbles along, under the surface,” he said.

“Just turn on the radio, listen to talkback radio and you know people are not happy about it, so if everybody’s not happy, why don’t we do something about it.”

In the report, Mr Ramsey said the Committee was of the opinion that any country of origin food labelling regime should not present an impediment to importers and/or provide non-tariff trade protection to our industries.

“At the heart of the recommendations is that each item should have a separate reference to the ingredients and the manufacture of goods,” he said.

“It keeps the best of what is good with the Australian country of origin statements, provides some specialised language that puts some separation between food and other products in the Australian market and most importantly addresses the confusion surrounding the ‘Made in Australia’ and ‘Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients’ descriptors.”

Ending the confusion

During the inquiry, Mr Ramsey said there was “extraordinary confusion” around the terms ‘Made in Australia’, ‘Product of Australia’ and ‘Made from Australian and Imported Ingredients’ which thwarted the increasing consumer desire to buy Australian made food and produce.

He said the committee was put on notice by Australian Pork Limited’s (APL) admission that 70pc of the ham and bacon sold in Australia under a ‘Made in Australia’ label, comes from overseas, imported mostly from Canada, the United States and Denmark.

“We fully understand they (importers) aren’t doing anything wrong and are working within country of origin guidelines but whether that’s a little misleading to the public, I think, is the question,” he said.

APL chief executive officer Andrew Spencer told the committee the Australian pork industry was leading the world on many initiatives including animal welfare, environmental management, product safety and biosecurity.

"Our customers want to support us by buying our product," he said.

But he said today's CoOL laws make consumer informed choice “almost impossible”, with many shoppers unaware that 70pc of Australia's ham and bacon consumption was made from imported pork.

Recommendation 1

The committee recommends that the Australian Government implement the following country of origin labelling safe harbours:

  • ‘Grown in’ – 100 per cent content from the country specified;
  • ‘Product of’ – 90 per cent content from the country specified;
  • ‘Made in [country] from [country] ingredients’ – 90 per cent content from the country specified;
  • ‘Made in [country] from mostly local ingredients’ – more than 50 per cent Australian content;
  • ‘Made in [country] from mostly imported ingredients’ – less than 50 per cent Australian content.
  • FarmOnline
    Colin Bettles

    Colin Bettles

    is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
    Date: Newest first | Oldest first


    Paul Cox
    30/10/2014 6:53:19 AM

    Reform in this area is long overdue. As a consumer it is far too often impossible to make an informed choice. Try asking where your ham or bacon originates from at the delis of the duopoly. I have & yet never been provided with an answer. Coles for example demands certain standards of Australian pork producers which it does not of overseas producers. Marketing gimmicks over transparency at a cost to both Australian producers and consumers is the norm. Sow stall free? Not if it is from foreign pork and that is the point. We as consumers need more information to make our own informed choices.
    30/10/2014 1:03:54 PM

    Included in this should be GMO contents
    31/10/2014 11:37:31 AM

    Why hasn't this already been implemented? .. And when I buy fresh I'd also like to know who the primary producer was. Shouldn't be a problem with all this traceability that the farmer pays for. As a consumer when I find a good tomato that I enjoy I'd like to consistently buy that line. And meat would be good to know that it was fresh local and not trucked from the other side of the country. What's so hard or complicated about using information already paid for and supplied?
    31/10/2014 12:04:02 PM

    This needs to be really transparent so no-one is left wondering about where the actual product is from, not the packaging. Difficult to control or police but I also want to know that the "flathead fillets" I order in a restaurant are Australian & not imported from Argentina. Time the govt enforced laws about imported fish being called "flathead or barramundi" e.g. too. I expect to read a label & feel comfortable that all I want to know about the product is satisfied.


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