The Federal Government has begun consultations and in-depth consumer research to deliver clearer and more consistent country of origin labelling for food sold in Australia.
Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane and agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce are meeting today with key food industry stakeholders at a roundtable meeting in Sydney to discuss the next steps in introducing a clearer and easier-to-understand food labelling system.
In a ministerial statement issued this morning, the ministers said the Government wanted country of origin labelling that gives consumers the information they need without imposing excessive costs on industry.
“During April and May we will consult closely with food manufacturers, retailers, agricultural producers and consumers, and conduct national in-depth consumer research,” Mr Macfarlane said.
“We will also consult extensively with State and Territory Governments, whose co-operation will be essential to implement changes in a timely and cost-effective way.
Part of the discussions will be about ways technology could be used to provide more information to consumers about the food they buy, without cluttering up labels—including apps shoppers can download onto their mobile phones and other devices.
“The bottom line is to give consumers the information they are calling out for, without imposing excessive costs on industry,” Mr Joyce said.
Country of Origin labelling surged back into prominence in February, when scores of Australians were sickened with hepatitis after eating poorly-identified frozen berries produced in China.
“Australian consumers have made it clear they want unambiguous and more consistent country of origin food labelling, so they can make more informed choices about the food they buy,” Mr Joyce said.
“We hear clearly that consumers want more information about where their food has been grown and processed. I’ve received 26,000 emails and 150 personally written letters asking us to make improvements to country of origin labelling, and more than a million Australians visited my website in response to the Government’s announcement,” he said.
“Current labelling in many instances is misleading and people have a right not to be misled about the origins of the food they buy. Simple, diagrammatic information on a package will allow people to tell at a glance what proportion of the food in a package comes from Australia—and it must be compulsory,” Mr Joyce said.
“The Government will steadily work through the complex implementation process. Of course there will be a phase-in period to ensure Australian producers have time to adjust to new labelling requirements.”
Country of Origin labelling was one of the key issues raised as part of the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper process.
A working group of Ministers representing sectors including industry, agriculture, small business, health and trade will develop the Government’s position on improvements that did not impose excessive costs on industry.
Consultations will include a series of roadshows for businesses and consumers in both metropolitan and regional centres and consumer market research.
- More information on the consultation and consumer research is available here.