Ministerial statement: Consumer access to seafood origin information in foodservice

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Publication Date: 
December 2020

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 Seafood Origin Working Group’s paper presents their findings.

Ministerial statement

The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology responded to the paper.

Background

Businesses preparing food for immediate public consumption (foodservice[1]) have long been exempt from mandatory origin labelling. The foodservice exemption has existed in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code since 2005[2] 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.

Consultation with foodservice and seafood stakeholders

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:

  • seeking written submissions from food service, seafood producers, small business and consumer groups in February 2017
  • review of extensive materials already available via recent seafood and labelling inquiries[3]
  • consideration of consumer research and competition issues in seafood and foodservice
  • investigation of existing consumer protections
  • convening meetings on 5 July 2017 and 22 November 2017 to hear stakeholders’ concerns directly. A paper prepared by the department which takes account of submissions, departmental research and other industry consultation is available at industry.gov.au

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.

Consideration by state and territory governments

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)[4] 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[5] 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.

Future reviews of origin labelling regulation

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.

Footnotes

  1. In this statement, the foodservice sector encompasses businesses selling food to the public for immediate consumption, and generally includes restaurants, caterers, canteens, takeaways and other dining venues such as cafes, pubs, clubs, bistros, hotels, motels, and fish & chip shops.
  2. The exemption for food for immediate consumption was included in Standard 1.2.1 when it was first gazetted in December 2005.
  3. Blewett, 2011, Labelling Logic: Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy; Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, 2014, Inquiry into the Current Requirements for Labelling of Seafood and Seafood Products; Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee 2015, Inquiry into the Food Standards Amendment (Fish Labelling) Bill 2015; Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia, 2016, Scaling Up: Inquiry into Opportunities for Expanding Aquaculture in Northern Australia,; Productivity Commission, 2017, Inquiry into Regulation of Australian Marine Fisheries and Aquaculture Sectors final report.
  4. CAF considers consumer affairs and fair trading matters of national significance to develop a consistent approach to those issues. CAF members include Commonwealth, State, Territory and New Zealand Ministers responsible for fair trading and consumer protection laws.
  5. The Forum is responsible for developing domestic food regulation policy, and is the decision making body for all food standards. with members from New Zealand, Australian, State and Territory Governments. Members include Australian Government and New Zealand Ministers responsible for food regulation, Health Ministers from Australian States and Territories, Ministers from related portfolios where they have been nominated by their jurisdiction, and the Australian Local Government Association.

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