Fixing food laws must be on consumer watchdog’s menu
Like most Australians, I love to indulge in the endless smorgasbord of foods available in Australia.
But not all people are so lucky.
There is a growing number of Australians with a condition called Coeliac Disease or gluten intolerance who can’t eat many foods without significant gastro intestinal problems and discomfort.
It’s estimated that more than 40,000 Australians have Coeliac Disease and their choice and the affordability of food is been undermined by the very organisation that is supposed to foster competition and choice – the ACCC.
Coeliacs have a significantly smaller choice of foods on the market and must pay extra – about $2000 more a year more than other shoppers – because of the consumer watchdog’s hardline interpretation of “gluten free” labelling.
It’s the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s job to protect consumers and increase competition in the marketplace – but it has badly let down Coelaics on this occasion.
Despite many years of asking for changes to gluten-free labelling laws, the ACCC has refused to budge or reconsider its position.
Under the ACCC’s definition, gluten free means absolutely no gluten at all is allowed to be present in manufactured food products in Australia if they are to use the “gluten free” label.
But ACCC’s inflexible position is at odds with the rest of the world.
The internationally code for food labelling allows for food to be labelled “Gluten Free” if it has less than 20 milligrams per kilogram of gluten.
According to clinical evidence, small amounts of gluten have no physiological effect at levels of 20 mg/kg or less in foods consumed by people with Coeliac Disease.
Having such rigid regulations means that “gluten Free” foods from other parts of the world cannot be imported as they do not comply with Australia’s labelling laws and the relatively small size of our gluten-free market limits manufacturers offering a wider range of locally-made products.
This limits choice for consumers of gluten free goods and also heavily reduces competition, making these special dietary products more expensive on supermarket shelves.
The only remedy for this inequity is for the Government to ensure that gluten-free labelling is consistent with the rest of the world.
They can do this by issuing a policy directive to the ACCC requiring that the interpretation of “gluten Free” on Australian food labels to be in line with international standards.
The outcome would be more competition and a wider variety of “gluten free” foods on supermarket shelves – and happier Coeliacs!
Kate Carnell is Chief Executive of the Australian Food and Grocery Council.
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