Labelling responds to consumer push for knowledge

Jon Condon, 30/05/2011

A new consumer-focused extended labelling initiative for food products has been launched in Australia, responding to consumer demands for more information about the foods they eat.

The program, likely to be available to consumers from early next year, has been driven by the Australian Food and Grocery Council and the not-for-profit standards body, GS1 Australia.

The initiative will be based on the use of the first whole-of-industry endorsed smartphone application, GS1 GoScan.

A call to action was put out at the Food and Grocery Council’s annual conference last week for food manufacturers to populate the GS1net database with their product information. The process is flexible enough to cater for everything from corn flakes and jam to fresh, chilled or value-added beef.

AFGC chief Executive Kate Carnell said industry had worked closely with GS1 Australia to develop and test the innovative bar-code scanning technology to deliver a global food safety culture and provide more product information for consumers, via the Smartphone 'Ap.'

“Extended labelling for food products has been successfully trialled and has now become a reality in Australia. We’re now calling on industry to get behind this system and upload their data,” she said.

The technology has the capacity to accurately transfer a large amount of ‘real time’ product composition and history data to consumers and to provide extra information about products including special processing attributes, dietary and health-related issues. 

GS1 Australia chief executive Maria Palazzolo said the Federal Government’s recent Blewett Labelling Review identified an increasing demand for food labels to contain more information.

“Demand is increasing for government to take a more strategic approach to food labelling policy. Label space is highly contested with competing pressures from consumers and food suppliers. The battle for label space has intensified,” she said.

The GS1 GoScan smartphone 'Ap' enables a consumer to scan the bar code on a product and then receive detailed product composition data, including:

  • Nutritional content
  • Daily Intake information
  • Dietary information
  • Religious or other specialised processes applied such as Kosher, Halal, Organic and others
  • Preparation, usage and storage instructions
  • Net contents and serving information
  • Country of origin
  • Product data such as descriptions, recipes and images.

Consumers in some Japanese supermarkets have been able to upload source and production information on beef purchases onto their mobile phones for years. Content includes individual animal identification number, its farm of origin, what it was fed, where and when it was processed and other history.

While Japanese consumers typically support the presence of such technology in-store, supermarket staff say in practise it is rarely used, but still provides an underlying ‘sense of confidence’ among customers.

Parallels in US industry

Meanwhile, similar technologies are emerging in the US. A new pilot program launched at Michigan State University aims to help consumers trace with their smart phones the origin of the beef they purchase.

Michigan is the only State in the US to have adopted a mandatory livestock traceability system, requiring all cattle to have an electronic ID ear tag before leaving their farm of origin.

MSU researchers want to expand the system beyond meat processors and refine tracking methods. They're currently working with small and medium-sized processors to coordinate barcodes with product, according to

"By translating RFID ear tags to a barcode, pieces or packages of beef can be labeled with that code, tracing it back to the farm and the individual," MSU associate animal science professor Dan Buskirk said.

Researchers hope consumers will be able to scan the barcode at kiosks in supermarkets or with a smart-phone Ap, giving them a direct link to information about the farm of origin.


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