CHOICE re-ignites Country of Origin food debate in Australia

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 6th September 2012

Australia’s  leading  consumer advocacy group CHOICE has just published the results of its survey of supermarket  home-branded  food products compared with leading supplier brands for the country of origin of product ingredients.

CHOICE looked at more than 360 products across popular grocery categories, including cereals, biscuits, snacks, tinned goods and frozen packaged food, matching private label products to their market leader equivalents.

Of the products surveyed, CHOICE says just 55% of Coles’ products and 38% of Woolworths products were locally made or grown, compared with 92% per cent of market leader groceries. In its calculations,  CHOICE included any product that was made in Australia or included Australian-grown ingredients- although CHOICE acknowledged these products might still include other ingredients from overseas.

CHOICE’s  sample of 100 market leader products,  showed that 42% specified they were packaged locally with some or all ingredients from overseas.  Of the Coles products, 63% were labelled as packaged in Australia from a combination of local and/or imported ingredients, while 71% of Woolworths products were labelled as packed locally but including ingredients of overseas origin, often of unidentified origin.

While CHOICE recognised that the law in Australia says the term “made in Australia” means the product must have undergone substantial transformation and 50% of processing costs here, CHOICE criticized the vagueness of  the legally  acceptable origin claim “packed in Australia from an imported ingredient”. CHOICE said the latter did “not really explain much at all, except that an ingredient from a mystery country was repackaged in an Australian factory”.

In July 2012, Australian Greens leader Christine Milne announced the Accurate Country of Origin Labelling for Food Bill in an attempt to protect both Australian consumers and farmers from this type of misleading labelling. Milne argues the bill provides clear food-specific country-of-origin labelling to allow customers to better understand where the produce they buy comes from and ensure a fair and transparent market for local growers.

 

According to CHOICE, Australians are predicted to spend $85.9bn on groceries this financial year, with private label sales expected to account for just over one-quarter of this amount – double what Australian shoppers spent on home-brand products five years ago. Dry grocery items and chilled packaged food categories have proven themselves the strongest home brand label performers over this time.

What CHOICE wants

CHOICE says that country of origin  labelling (CoOL) is “one of the biggest consumer frustrations when it comes to food labelling. We’ve long called on governments around the country to clear up with confusion caused by the multitude of different terms currently used on packaging”.

CHOICE says its July 2011 members’ survey, revealed close to 90% of more than 300 respondents said it was important to know the origin of the food they eat, with two-thirds rating it as very important.

While CHOICE is advocating a tightening of origin wording, but in view of the government response that rejected similar recommendations of the Blewett Labelling Review “Labelling Logic” report last year, chances for more change along these lines might seem unlikely for now.