Clarity for consumers far from writ large in Country of Origin Labelling report

Proposed changes to the Australian Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) system would not necessarily provide consumers with greater clarity about the origin of their food, says Peak Industry Body AUSVEG, which fears many of the recommendations contained in a report released by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industry could leave consumers no more enlightened than before.

“The Committee’s suggested reforms to country of origin claims, while clearly showing a willingness to move on from the current system, will run the risk of continuing to confuse consumers,” said AUSVEG spokesperson Andrew MacDonald.

“If Australian consumers are to gain benefits from a reformed labelling system, claims must be simplified and unambiguous, with consumers able to tell at a glance the source of a product and its major ingredients.”

The proposed reforms rely on a system where “mostly local” and “mostly imported” will be used as stand-ins for the actual volume of ingredients originating in a particular country, leaving consumers in the dark and providing no significant differentiation from the current labelling scheme.

In its submission to the Inquiry, AUSVEG supported scrapping the “Made in” label entirely, replacing it with “Manufactured in” to ensure consumers were not misled as to the origins of a product’s ingredients.

“Claiming a vegetable product was ‘made in’ Australia leads customers to believe that the vegetable ingredients were grown in Australia, when often under the current system, ‘made in’ simply refers to where manufacturing costs occurred,” said Mr MacDonald.

“The report’s recommendations, which fail to clarify on-label what ‘mostly local’ or ‘mostly imported’ means, will keep consumers guessing about precisely where their food is coming from.”

A suggestion from AUSVEG that country of origin labelling text be made larger was adopted into a recommendation by the Committee, but while this is a step in the right direction, the overall report leaves much to be desired.

“It’s not going to matter how large a label is if consumers are still confused about what the label’s saying in the first place,” said Mr MacDonald.

The Committee’s recommendation of an education program designed to raise awareness of the rules and requirements behind CoOL would be a valuable further step for consumer knowledge, but AUSVEG believes there is much more work to be done.

Posted 27 October 2014


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