The Federal Government is considering six options to help consumers easily identify which food products are Australian, or in the case of mixed source goods, how much of a product is produced or processed in Australia, with consumers being asked to vote online.
Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, says labelling reforms are long overdue, and ambiguous phrases in current use, such as made in Australia from local and imported produce, mean nothing.
“Consumers have reached a point where they are demanding this information,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.
“We are very mindful that this will add a cost to manufacturing in Australia but consumers are saying they are prepared to pay that cost. It’s somewhere between half and one cent per container.”
Macfarlane’s department is seeking community feedback on the options, via an online survey, before a recommendation is put to cabinet later this year.
Industry groups have backed the initiative by the Federal Government that aims to gauge consumer attitudes on country of origin labelling reforms.
Choice spokesperson, Tom Godfrey, said the Federal Government’s call for consumer and community feedback is a great step towards creating a meaningful and clear country of origin labelling system.
“Labels are meant for consumers and the best judges of what is clear and meaningful on food packaging are Australian shoppers,” Godfrey said.
“The last thing we need is another flawed and confusing country of origin framework that does nothing more than tweak the status quo.
“Consumers need to ask themselves if the images and the text phrases are meaningful and will ultimately help them make an informed decision about where their food is from.”
AusVeg has also signalled its support for the program, but has called on the Federal Government to stay firm on its commitment to give Australians meaningful information about the food they are buying and eating.
“While we support the implementation of diagrams to display the proportion of ingredients that are grown in Australia, AusVeg remains of the view that specifically outlining the country of origin of the main ingredients is a vitally important part of giving consumers clarity,” AusVeg deputy CEO, Andrew White, said.
The concepts laid out by the government include having a bar, pie chart or a map of Australia coloured to identify the proportion of ingredients that are Australian, as well as text indicating both whether the product was ‘Made in’ Australia and whether the ingredients are ‘more than’ or ‘less than 50 per cent local ingredients’.
“We believe the term ‘Made in’, which is proposed to be used to indicate where a product was manufactured, is too ambiguous, with a 2014 Choice survey indicating that only 12 per cent of consumers were able to identify its current meaning,” said White.
“’Made in’ needs to be replaced with more accurate terminology, such as ‘Manufactured in’ or ‘Processed in’, so that consumers are not led to believe that the country where a product has been manufactured is the same as where the products’ ingredients were grown. This must be tested with consumers to make sure we get it right,” White said.
“In our view, the percentage indicator would ideally also include greater segmentation than the proposed ‘more than’ or ‘less than 50 per cent local ingredients’, so that consumers can make more informed choices about their purchases.”
The Australian Made Campaign, the not for profit organisation that administers and promotes the kangaroo logo, is calling on consumers to ‘remember the roo’ and back the variation of the iconic green and gold kangaroo logo which is one of six proposed graphics.
“We have been lobbying for clarity and consistency in food labelling for years now, and worked with the Government on the current proposal,” Australian Made Campaign CEO, Ian Harrison, said.
“We strongly support action on food labelling and welcome the opportunity for consumers to have their say on the best system moving forward.
“There are three decades of understanding behind the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo, which is recognised by 98 per cent of Australians, and trusted by 88 per cent to identify genuine Aussie products and produce – we hope consumers will remember the roo and take a common sense approach to voting.”
The survey can be found at http://industry.gov.au/CoOL.