Fears manufacturers may leave Aussie shores

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 13th June 2008

The House of Representatives inquiry into obesity is underway with the Australian Food and Grocery Council highlighting the potential for manufacturers to leave Australian shores if new legislation is perceived as being too harsh.

The concern about obesity in Australia has led to a growing number of health and consumer groups requesting new legislation to tackle the issue, with a traffic light labeling system, taxes on “junk-food”, advertising restrictions and subsidies on fruit and vegetables among the suggestions.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), in their submission to the inquiry, disputed the need for such initiatives.

The AFGC, the peak national organisation representing Australia’s packaged food, drink and grocery products industry, claim that measures implemented already by manufacturers are helping lessen the crisis. They cited initiatives of the food industry that were improving the situation, such as: providing $1 million of support for the National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, the introduction of a new, voluntary Daily Intake Guide front of pack labeling scheme and a commitment to responsible advertising consistent with concepts of moderation.

The imposition of taxes and subsidies on food and beverages for public health purposes is strongly opposed by the AFGC due to fears they will be ill-targeted, socially inequitable and the lack of evidence that consumption patterns would change as a result.

The AFGC also strongly opposes the use of a traffic light classification system to identify “so
called ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods and drinks” with concerns it is a scientifically-flawed concept that misrepresents healthy eating advice and will not achieve its’ purpose.

The other worry of the AFGC was that, with the increased competitiveness in the global food industry, any legislation changes may lead to the limiting of Australia as an appropriate market for some companies. “As global economic and trade developments continue to test the competitiveness of Australian industry, transnational businesses are under increasing pressure to justify Australia as a strategic location for corporate production, irrespective of whether they are Australian or foreign owned,” the AFGC stated. “In an increasingly globalised economy, the ability of companies to internationalise their operations is as significant as their ability to trade globally.”

The inquiry, which could have major ramifications for the Australian food industry, is set to hold a second public hearing in Adelaide today with a further hearing scheduled in Melbourne next week. All submissions by interested parties are due today.