Recent Food Safety Scares Prompt New Country of Origin Labelling Laws

A proposed new system for country-of-origin labelling outlines the need for labels to show the percentage of imported and Australian content in a product.
March 17, 2015

The cost of packaging for food could rise slightly under proposed new labelling laws which require the inclusion of country-of-origin details.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has tasked Industry minister, Ian Macfarlane, and Agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, with preparing an urgent submission on reforms. The pair have until the end of March to establish a new system, expected to involve a graphic which will indicate the percentage of imported and Australian content in a product.

Macfarlane suggested that customers may have to pay extra thanks to the new packaging, but Mr. Joyce commented that he didn't believe that this would be the case, arguing that the current package details could simply be replaced.

The Need for Knowledge

The announcement about the origin labelling comes alongside the 26th confirmed case of Hepatitis A, believed to be caused by Nanna's frozen berries. As more food safety concerns continue to emerge throughout the media, Australian citizens have begun to grow suspicious of the food in their local supermarkets. According to Mr Tony Abbott, "For too long people have been talking about country of origin labelling". It may be about time the change is made.

Experts have commented that measures will be taken to ensure that businesses do not suffer too heavily from the introduction of these new labelling laws. In fact, Mr Abbott himself commented that the food labelling reform would be done in "the most business-friendly" and "cost-effective" manner possible.

The Current Labelling Laws

At this point, the phrase "made from Australian and imported ingredients" is widely used throughout supermarket produce, making it impossible to determine the details of all of the ingredients within a single product - or where that product was packaged.

It's not just the recent food safety scares prompting label changes. Producers have been actively attempting to show more of their Australian credentials after a study conducted in 2013 by Roy Morgan showed that over 60% of Australians were prone to buying products simply because they were made in Australia, even though those items were more expensive than imported alternatives.

The Suggested Change

The "Greens" bill proposes that foods should be separated into three different categories. The words "grown in" or "product of" could be used for items wholly processed in a single country. The words "manufactured in" would describe food significantly altered in a certain country and "packaged in" would refer to products that were highly processed, but can't claim ingredients from the specific country.

The hope is that better labelling will give Australian customers the chance to be properly educated about what they are buying, and where the food they are eating has come from. This way, customers will be able to decide whether they'd rather purchase home-grown supplies, regardless of the differences in price.