Renewed push for CoOL change

18 Feb, 2015 06:45 AM
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Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has joined a chorus of calls to revise Country of Origin Labelling for food.
Some food labelling ... is ambiguous - and I think, to be honest, mischievous
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has joined a chorus of calls to revise Country of Origin Labelling for food.

IMPORTED food products require unambiguous Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) to drive consumer confidence, says federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Mr Joyce fronted media on Tuesday amid urgent calls to improve food labelling measures after a Hepatitis A outbreak linked to a brand of imported frozen berries, allegedly from China.

Palmer United Party leader and Queensland MP Clive Palmer said the Hepatitis A incident could have been avoided with better food labelling.

Mr Palmer used the controversy to reiterate calls for urgent reform of Australian food labelling which he says would safeguard consumers, keep profits at home and protect local jobs.

“The serious Hepatitis A outbreak linked to these imported frozen berries is an example of what can happen when consumers do not know what they are buying because of inadequate labelling laws,’’ Mr Palmer said.

But Mr Joyce said the government was already taking steps to deal with the issue, including progressing recommendations from a parliamentary inquiry on food labelling handed down late last year.

That inquiry made eight recommendations on changes to the current CoOL arrangements to resolve consumer confusion.

Ambiguity must be removed

Food labelling improvements were also being considered in the government’s Agricultural Competiveness White Paper, which Mr Joyce is discussing with Small Business Minister Bruce Billson.

“We need to make sure we have proper country of origin labelling,” Mr Joyce said.

“My belief is that when you go to the shop you want to pick up something and within a moment, know unambiguously where that product comes from; whether those tomatoes are from Australia or whether those tomatoes are from somewhere else; whether those cans of asparagus are Australian or whether they’re from somewhere else; and whether the berries are unambiguously from Australia or somewhere else.”

Mr Joyce said some food labelling terminology currently in use is “ambiguous - and I think, to be honest, mischievous”.

He said proper CoOL regulation would require removing the ambiguity around whether a product is made in Australia from Australian ingredients or imported ingredients, put together in Australia or packaged in Australia.

“People see the word Australia and think ‘safe’,” he said.

Mr Joyce said the issue also showed “quite clearly” that Australian produce earned a global premium because it’s seen to be safe and healthy.

“That’s why we get a premium for it in China,” he said.

Mr Joyce supported a review of food safety testing protocols – managed under Food Standards Australia New Zealand – done in conjunction with other portfolios such as health.

“I’m not going to start suggesting what should happen in other portfolios, as the Minister for Agriculture,” he said.

“But… if the thresholds need to be lowered, so more (import risk) needs to be examined, we would do that.”

Red flags and tags

Independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon called for an urgent independent review of Australia’s imported food safety regime over the widening Hepatitis A outbreak.

Senator Xenophon said he would also be moving for a parallel Senate inquiry into the issue, with the aim of an interim report being provided within a month.

He also said that the Hepatitis A outbreak strengthened the need for unambiguous CoOL laws.

“Currently you can call something ‘made in Australia’ so long as 51 per cent by value (including processing) was done in Australia – that’s nowhere near good enough for consumers to make an informed choice,” he said.

“This is a red flag that none of us can ignore,” he said.

“I wrote today to Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce requesting an independent review, while a Senate Inquiry will take a wide-ranging look at the health risks associated with the multi-billion dollar imported food sector.”

Mr Palmer said PUP wanted to introduce a coloured tag system to properly inform consumers of the origins of the products they buy.

“If a product contains more than 5pc of the product including packaging not originating in Australia, it would carry a red tag and if an item has 95pc or more of its content made in Australia then we would be proposing a green and gold tag,” he said.

“The aim of this kind of food labelling reform would enable consumers to be able to make informed decisions about their purchases and to promote and protect truly Australian goods and services for the betterment of everybody in this country.”

Current laws focus on process

The inquiry by the House of Representative’s Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industries – Chaired by South Australian Liberal Rowan Ramsey – said current food labelling claims go to production or manufacturing rather than actual content.

“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,” the report 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 of his Committee’s inquiry allow a label to say, ‘90pc made in Australia from Australian contents’, or ‘50pc made in Australia from mainly Australian contents’.

A level below that would say ‘made in Australia from Taiwanese tomatoes or whatever’.

“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.

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READER COMMENTS

John Newton
18/02/2015 7:13:58 AM

Be still my beating heart! I find myself in furious agreement with Barnaby Joyce.
Hedgehog
18/02/2015 7:21:47 AM

Barnaby is so right on this one! Don't always agree with everything he says but when I go in to buy FOOD I do not want to buy anything out of China, TV's etc what the heck but anything going through my body I will be a bit choosie.... Country/countries of origin need to be very clear including on the price stickers on supermarket aisles ao that I should not even need to examine the product.
Cass
18/02/2015 8:51:52 AM

Steamer bags of mixed vegetables are labelled Made In Australia. They are packed in Australia using frozen vegetables from various sources, China being a common one. The vegetables are sent in big frozen blocks which are broken up in Australia, mixed, and packed into the sealed freezer bags. And then labelled Made In Australia. An acquaintance of Chinese origin refuses to buy any food from her home country because she doubts its cleanliness. Supermarket shelves are crowded with products from China, many labelled thus, including cracker biscuits and canned food. Read the fine print.
qlander
18/02/2015 9:06:33 AM

Anything imported into this country should pass Australian standards. Regardless if it's a car, a berry, or a steel pipe. We insist on a set of standards for our own farmers an manufacturers, yet import any old thing.
ldale
18/02/2015 9:48:30 AM

Country of origin labelling to be in print size as demanded on cigarette packets.
Bushfire Blonde
18/02/2015 10:39:13 AM

Just fix CoOL Barnaby - just fix it! It should not be that difficult.
terence
18/02/2015 10:47:20 AM

I agree with Barnaby, as a Aussie farmer all I see is that until it affects the consumers health they don't care about anything as long as its price is down down and cheap cheap.
daw
18/02/2015 11:09:56 AM

Dear Clive, your ideas and comments in this article are not acceptable. If even less than 1% is from o'seas then we should have a right to know. It has to be precise. Hep A could be carried in a mg. Anything imported even the container should be accurately labelled. It is not a hard thing to do. Qlander, I'm reminded of the yarn that chinese junk was once a vessel on a river in China. Now it describes 'products' imported & sold to us silly aussies.
Denis
18/02/2015 11:21:05 AM

Consumers have been screaming at our governments for years for this. No matter their political persuasions, politicians are hell bent on selling us out to foreign interests. There is an old saying, "follow the money honey". Someone must be winning somewhere, just not us!
Sam Trethewey
18/02/2015 11:37:58 AM

We're waiting Barnaby... I witnessed you, Heffernan and Katter jumping up and down about food labelling laws at SPCA prior to them being fished out by the local Victorian Gov. The three of you were very passionate and said "when you're in Government". Choice have had submissions sitting with the Senate since Gillard was in charge. So, we're waiting...
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