Australian Made Campaign welcomes delay and more consultation on Country of Origin labels
The Australian Made Campaign has welcomed the Government’s decision to consult with stakeholders and undertake consumer research into its proposal to introduce a mandatory ‘Australian content’ symbol for all locally produced food products.
It is believed the Ministers will be submitting further recommendations to Cabinet in August 2015 on changes to the current labelling laws, and what the proposed new symbol will look like. Previously, Prime Minister Abbott had announced that Country of Origin labelling proposals for reform would be released by Federal Cabinet “by the end of March 2015”.
The Australian Government announced late last week that it had begun consultations and “in-depth consumer research” to “deliver clearer and more consistent” country of origin labelling for food sold in Australia.
Consultations with consumers and industry stakeholders
Minister for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce said the Government wanted country of origin labelling that gives consumers the information they need without imposing excessive costs on industry.
The Ministers met with key food industry stakeholders at a roundtable meeting in Sydney last week to discuss the next steps in introducing a clear and easy-to-understand food labelling system.
“During April and May we will consult closely with food manufacturers, retailers, agricultural producers and consumers and conduct national in-depth consumer research,” Mr Macfarlane said. “We will also consult extensively with State and Territory Governments, whose co-operation will be essential to implement changes in a timely and cost-effective way,” he said.
Technology ‘could be used to provide more information to consumers’
Mr Macfarlane said that part of the Government’s discussions would be about “ways technology could be used to provide even more information to consumers about the food they buy without cluttering up labels – including apps shoppers can download onto their mobile phones and other devices”.
“The bottom line is to give consumers the information they are calling out for, without imposing excessive costs on industry,” Mr Macfarlane said.
Response to consumer demand
Minister Joyce said Australian consumers had asked for this change.
“Australian consumers have made it clear they want unambiguous and more consistent country of origin food labelling, so they can make more informed choices about the food they buy,” Mr Joyce said.
“We hear clearly that consumers want more information about where their food has been grown and processed,” Mr Joyce said. “I’ve received in the order of 26,000 emails and about 150 personally written letters asking us to make improvements to country of origin labelling, and more than a million Australians visited my website in response to the Government’s announcement,” he said.
“The Government is taking action on this issue now and will steadily work through the complex implementation process,” Mr Joyce said. “Of course there will be a phase-in period to ensure Australian producers have time to adjust to new labelling requirements,” he said.
A working group of Ministers representing sectors including industry, agriculture, small business, health and trade will develop the Government’s position on improvements that do not impose excessive costs on industry.
Consultations will include a series of roadshows for businesses and consumers in both metropolitan and regional centres and consumer market research.
Consultation welcomed by Australian Made Campaign
Ian Harrison, Australian Made Campaign Chief Executive, said the consultations were “a very important initiative of the Government” and that it was “therefore imperative that the Government gets it right”.
The not-for-profit Australian Made Campaign administers and promotes the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo, Australia’s registered country-of-origin certification trade mark for all classes of Australian goods.
The rules for using the logo on food products are more stringent than the rules for making country-of-origin claims under Australian Consumer Law. The Australian Made Campaign has been lobbying for that gap to be closed, and an education program to be rolled out to help increase understanding of country-of-origin claims and the value proposition of buying Australian made and Australian grown products.
“The Australian Made Campaign applauds the Ministers for Agriculture and Industry making country-of-origin branding a priority and looks forward to working closely with the Government on the introduction of the new system,” Mr Harrison said.
“Australian Made has submitted comment to and appeared before a number of Government Committees on country-of-origin labelling in recent years and it is great to finally see traction in this important area of Government policy,” Mr Harrison said. “A tighter system for food labelling, coupled with a better understanding of that system by consumers, will give Aussie shoppers more confidence in what they are purchasing,” he said.
Mr Harrison said a “widespread education campaign” would be an “essential” part of the revised system.
“There is also an obvious role for the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo,” Mr Harrison said. “It has been helping Australian farmers and manufacturers sell genuine Aussie products to consumers all around the world for nearly three decades. It makes good sense to build on that,” he said.