The Australian Government committed to convening a working group to consider options for improving consumer access to seafood origin information in the foodservices sector. A debate on the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016 prompted this commitment.
The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology responded to the paper.
Businesses preparing food for immediate public consumption (foodservice) have long been exempt from mandatory origin labelling. The foodservice exemption has existed in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code since 2005 and it was maintained when the new Country of Origin Labelling Information Standard 2016 was introduced.
The 2016 reforms focused on improving existing origin labels on foods available for retail sale, such as in supermarkets. In retail, where food production, purchasing and consumption generally take place separately, consumers depend on labels for obtaining food origin information and there was evidence to suggest consumers were confused by terms such as ‘product of’ and ‘made in’.
The exemption of foodservice from mandatory origin labelling does not mean origin information is unimportant. Rather, the exemption reflects that consumer barriers to information in foodservice are different to those in retail. In foodservice, where production and consumption of meals generally take place together on the same premises, consumers are able to ask for origin information and other particulars (such as allergens) directly from the business preparing their meal.
On 28 November 2016, during debate on the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016, the Australian Government indicated it would consider options for improving consumer access to seafood origin information in foodservice purchases.
This statement details the outcomes of the detailed consideration of consumer access to seafood origin information in food service.
The Australian Government undertook thorough consideration of issues surrounding consumer access to seafood origin information in foodservice purchases during 2017. The objective of the process was to ascertain whether there was widespread evidence of consumers being unable to obtain seafood origin information in food service, and whether industry had pursued non-regulatory, industry-led initiatives.
The process included:
The Australian Government acknowledges all stakeholders that participated in the process including: Seafood Industry Australia (SIA); Professional Fisherman’s Association of NSW (PFA); Northern Territory Seafood Council (NTSC); Australian Hotels Association (AHA); Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC); National Retailers Association (NRA); Restaurant and Catering Australia (RCA); Seafood Importers Association of Australia (SIAA); Sydney Fish Markets (SFM); and the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council (TSIC).
The Australian Government also wishes to thank the Northern Territory Government and the New South Wales Government for their advice on seafood origin matters.
In March 2016, as part of the negotiations for the Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) reforms, all state and territory ministers on the Legislative and Governance Forum on Consumer Affairs (CAF) agreed to continue the exemption of mandatory CoOL in foodservice, including seafood and fast food.
Subsequent to the Commonwealth’s consultation process in 2017, the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation considered the issue of seafood origin labelling in foodservice in October 2018. The Forum noted, based on extensive consumer research, there was insufficient evidence to warrant extension of origin labelling to seafood in the foodservice sector.
In October 2018, CAF was requested to further consider the matter of seafood origin labelling with respect to any new evidence and experience. CAF agreed there would be no further changes to the Australian Consumer Law on country of origin labelling at that time.
Consumers’ values and habits are constantly changing, and the way businesses operate is also evolving, so the balance struck by the reforms must be reassessed to ensure it remains appropriate. The Government committed to evaluate the 2016 Country of Origin Labelling reforms in 2020-21, and that will present an ideal opportunity to engage with consumers to understand their preferences and desires, and to determine whether any adjustment to the existing CoOL arrangements is warranted.