Proposed reforms to country of origin food labels - overview
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The need for country of origin food labelling reform
Public concern over country of origin labelling has resulted in numerous inquiries, reports and proposals on the matter over many decades without any real change or improvement.
For many years consumers have been demanding changes so that origin claims on food labels are clearer and more meaningful. They are interested in not just where something was made or packaged but also whether the ingredients were grown in Australia.
Australia’s current framework comprises three elements:
The purpose of improved country or origin information is to enable consumers to make informed choices about the food they buy.
The Government is determined to deliver better country of origin food labelling in as cost effective way as possible. While we don’t want to unnecessarily increase regulatory or production costs we do want to ensure that consumers get the information they need and are asking for.
We have consulted about the options with the State and Territory Governments, whose co-operation will be required in order to implement these changes, and we will be seeking their agreement to make the necessary legislative changes.
The Government will propose to the states and territories that country of origin labelling for food be regulated through a mandatory information standard under the Australian Consumer Law rather than through the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.
Consultation with stakeholders on the details of the proposed new system will take place as part of state and territory deliberations – expected to commence in late October 2015.
The new labels will be available for download in the coming months.
Businesses can register their details on the Country of Origin homepage to be notified when the new labels are available.
Collapsed - What will the new labels look like and what information will they include?
The proposed country of origin labels will include new standard phrases and a kangaroo and bar-chart graphic which is easily identifiable. The Government acknowledges that only a small amount of information can fit on a food label. The Government will work with industry groups to ensure that consumers wanting more information about individual ingredients, or lists of countries, will have access to online information.
This symbol and words will identify two key things about all food products:
- Firstly, whether the food was grown or made in Australia.
This will be the first part of the standard phrase and the kangaroo in the triangle will show that the food was grown or made in Australia.
- Secondly, what percentage of the ingredients by weight in the food/product is Australian.
The bar chart will allow consumers to identify what percentage (in bands/increments) of the ingredients is Australian, this will be the second part of the standard phrase.
Examples – ‘made in’ and ‘grown in’
There will be some flexibility in the colour, shape and size of the new labels to accommodate different products and packaging (a vertical and horizontal layout can be seen below).
There will be a number of seasonal labels which companies can choose to use when their products have a significant seasonal variability.
Product scenario: The product is 80% Australian ingredients in summer and only 20% Australian ingredients in winter.
- Scenario label option one - to relabel seasonally
- Scenario label option two - make an 'at least' claim
- Scenario label option three - use a 'seasonal average'
*Note: any 'seasonal average' claims must provide information on a website/barcode where customers can use a batch number/expiry date to determine what's in that specific product.
While there will be no requirement to list many different countries on the food label companies will be encouraged to include specific ingredient information where they can, on a voluntary basis. Ingredient specific information will also be available through digital sources.
With some companies sourcing produce from all over the world and ingredients changing regularly printing different labels isn’t practical.
Examples – companies providing additional information
The new rules will make it clear what “made in” means through providing guidance on processes that are sufficient or not sufficient to confer origin. To make a ‘made in’ claim, companies must be substantially transforming ingredients so the end product is something fundamentally different to the grown ingredients. This is consistent with standard international practice. When the origin of the ingredients is Australian, additional claims such as ‘grown in Australia’ or ‘product of Australia’ may also be used.
The claim ‘made in’ does not mean importing ingredients and just performing minor processes on them, like slicing, freezing, canning, bottling, reconstituting or packing.
For example: making mozzarella cheese from milk could be labelled ‘Made in Australia from X% Australian ingredients’, but importing mozzarella cheese, shredding it and packaging it for resale could not be.
The new rules will make it easier for consumers to understand packages, for industry to accurately label their products, and for the regulators to make sure that what the pack says is right.
Collapsed - Removing the loophole that permits the ability to use ‘Packed in' without making a country of origin claim
New rules will require any ‘packed in’ statements to also include a clear country of origin statement. This is also consistent with standard international practice. If a product is packed or wrapped in a country but the food originated (was made or grown) in another country it will need to clearly state this on the label. ‘Packed in Australia, made in Norway’ or where ingredients come from multiple countries ‘Packed in Australia from imported ingredients’.
Examples - ‘Packed in Australia’
The new labelling will apply to those food categories which consumers and the community indicated they were most interested in country of origin food labelling – this was mainly fresh produce or minimally processed foods, these include:
Sectors making foods not included in the list above who want to use the new food labels may do so voluntarily.
As is currently the case, the new labelling will only be applied to produce sold in a retail context such as supermarkets, shops and markets. It will not apply to food sold for immediate consumption in the service/hospitality sectors such as restaurants, fast food outlets, cafes or bars.
As every food product is slightly different, a one size fits all approach cannot be applied to all products. Below are some examples of how labels could be applied.
- Individually packaged products - the label can be placed on the back or the front of the individual package.
- Unpackaged products (fresh food, deli and bakery items etc) – the label can be placed on central signage, on the container or next to the price label.
The Government will also review the proposed system in 2 years’ time and if further refinements are needed then we will be pleased to consider this.
A staggered phase-in period (of between 3 months and 24 months) will apply from the date a new policy is legislated by the Commonwealth, States and Territories. Voluntary adoption of the labels ahead of the mandatory start date will be encouraged.
Imported products will continue to be required to be labelled with a country of origin (Product of Thailand, Made in Canada etc.), and labels on foods claimed to be packed in a particular country must indicate whether they include ingredients imported into that country.
The clarified rules around the use of ‘made in’ and ‘packed in’ statements will apply to imports. Importers will also be required to make their country of origin claim in a box on the label, like Australian producers, so it can be easily found by consumers. They will obviously not be required or allowed to use the kangaroo and the gold bar chart as the product is not made/grown in Australia.
The Government is mindful of our international trade agreements and as a net exporter of food we do not want to jeopardise our trade relationships that help create jobs in Australia.
We have gone to a lot of trouble to design a labelling system which reflects what consumers most want from country of origin labelling. We have also consulted with industries to ensure the transition to new labels can be done without imposing unnecessary costs on business and remain consistent with our international trade obligations.
Collapsed - Consultation process and feedback on the policy design
Businesses and consumers were encouraged to have their say on the proposed country of origin labelling. Input from businesses and the community have shaped the policy framework. Consultations were done in two phases:
- Businesses and industry groups stakeholder consultations were held across the country during April and May 2015. These sessions focus on business implications of the policy and will consider how the scheme is applied, phased in and implemented.
Insights from the business and sessions helped inform the concepts and consumer research.
- Consumer feedback and community groups – two parts
- Community survey – more than 17 800 responses to the community survey were received the community survey was open to the public from Tuesday 9 June 2015 – Friday 3 July 2015.
- Consumer research – formal market research with a nationally representative sample was conducted through focus groups and a consumer survey during June and July 2015.