“Made in Australia” should mean made in Australia
Walking down the aisle of the average supermarket, the local shopper is bombarded with labels claiming a whole range of virtues including the Australian-ness of their product.
“Manufactured in Australia”, “Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients” and “Australian Owned” are just some of the catchcries that food manufactures use to get our attention and convince us to buy their product. This is an effective marketing tool, evidenced by explosions of claims on labels that line our supermarket shelves. But as always the devil is in the detail. Or - when it comes to food labelling - the devil is in the definition.
Australian consumers want to buy Australian-grown food not only to support Australian farmers but also because they have confidence in the standard and quality of food products grown and packaged in their own backyard. Often the Australian-ness catchcries touted on food labels are not clear and can be extremely misleading, making it difficult for the consumer to determine which part, if any, of the product was indeed grown in Australia.
Take for example the slogan regularly seen on packaged food, “Made from local and imported ingredients”. It is not surprising that such a label leaves shoppers confused as to which part of the food is actually from Australia. After trawling though websites or ringing around companies consumers discover that, for example, their packet of frozen broad beans consists of imported Chinese beans with Australian water included.
Again, the Made in Australia slogan is one that generates significant confusion among shoppers who come away believing that they have purchased an Australian product. For this particular claim to be made, the product must have been substantially transformed in Australia so that it is new and different after the manufacturing process, with at least 50 per cent of production costs incurred here.
As you can see, this definition is clearly designed for non-comestible products. While it may be appropriate for products such as clothing or shoes, this definition simply does not cut it for food products where the consumer is concerned not only with where it was manufactured but also where it was grown.
While the promotion of the voluntary Australian Grown logo has successfully helped consumers identify food grown in Australia, there still remains significant confusion for consumers given the vast array of other slogans and claims routinely displayed on packaging. Definitive, consistent and mandatory criteria for country-of-origin labelling would reduce confusion and empower consumers to make more informed choices.
Consumers have a right to access comprehensive information about food products in order to satisfy health requirements and their own personal value system. Clear, simple and accurate food labelling identifying the origin, production methods and nutritional value of food products is critical to empowering consumers to make informed choices and to protect the health and safety of all Australians. With the public release of the independent review into food labelling standards headed by Dr Neal Blewett late last month, it is timely to consider the importance of getting our food labelling regulations right.
It is good to see that the Food Labelling Review addresses some of the concerns about inaccurate and, at times, deceptive country-of-origin labelling in a number of its recommendations - most significantly, by recommending that for foods bearing some form of Australian claim, a consumer-friendly and food-specific country-of-origin labelling framework be developed based primarily on the ingoing weight of the ingredients (excluding water).
This would mean greater clarity and simplicity for consumers who wish to make purchases on the basis of country-of-origin. Standardising the use of such claims would not only assist consumers to make informed choices, but it would also provide genuine domestic food producers and manufacturers with a competitive edge.
Whether the motivation comes from a desire to secure the long-term viability of the Australian food production industry, or whether it comes from a desire to empower consumers, there is a clear need for greater clarity and accuracy around country-of-origin claims.The release of this review provides all levels of government and industry with a unique opportunity to think seriously about the importance of clarity, simplicity and accuracy in food labelling practices and the need for rigorous and consistent enforcement of regulations governing these practices. Let’s not waste it.
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