After a two-year phase-in period, new country-of-origin food labelling laws come into full effect in July.

The labels clearly spell out where food is from, and which foods are grown, produced or made in Australia.

All priority foods must display new country-of-origin labels. These are staple foods — not biscuits, confectionary or alcohol.

Clearer for consumers

James Kelly grows more than 10 different varieties of vegetables in Victoria’s north-east.

Most of his produce goes to fresh markets, but a lot of the cabbage goes into supermarket dim sims and spring rolls.

Mr Kelly said now that shoppers could clearly see what produce was Australian, he hoped they would be inspired to buy more local food.

“Sometimes before it wasn’t completely clear.

“I hope it helps Australian farmers get more of their produce into the marketplace.”

Mr Kelly’s family has been growing vegetables for 150 years, and he said it was becoming more difficult to make a living from it.

“It’s very tough, long hours, and a lot of years you don’t make a profit or you break even but you keep going,” he said.

Cheap imports, ‘low standards’

Down the road at Kialla East, Gary Godwill’s family has been growing fruit such as pears and peaches for just as long.

“We’re selling onto a very depressed fresh fruit market,” he said.

“We’re selling to the processor at very low margins … we are finding it very difficult to survive.”

Mr Godwill said supermarkets often used cheap imported fruit in their home-brand canned products, which was difficult to compete with.

“The competition at present is Chinese and South African, and we’re competing against very low wage paying nations there, and in some cases they have very low standards,” he said.

“Not only in food safety but the safety of the workers and in terms of the environmental standards.”

Mr Godwill said the fruit industry was dependent on consumer loyalty.

The high price of ‘imposter’ labelling

Mr Godwill sells most of his fruit to local cannery SPC Ardmona in nearby Shepparton.

SPC’s David Frizzell said, under the old labelling laws, SPC lost business.

“I think there are consumers that have sometimes been misled by unclear labelling, perhaps imposter labelling, if you like, that pretends to be Australian-made or Australian-packed or Australian-content, when in actual fact it’s not really the case,” he said.

“So we’ve probably missed sales out of that.”

Mr Frizzell said the Australian product might cost more, but he was hopeful shoppers would be prepared to pay the premium.

“We believe that Australians have the right intent to support Australian industry,” he said.

“How far that goes, when they’re comparing it with cheaper imports, I guess this will help us find out.”

Penalties apply

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will be in charge of enforcing the new laws, and will start by conducting market surveillance checks on 10,000 products.

ACCC deputy chair, Mick Keogh, said companies have had two years to phase in the new labelling system and those that have failed to do so risked serious financial pain.

“The penalties for an individual are up to $220,000, and a for a corporation up to $1.1 million,” he said.

“So they are quite substantial penalties, and that’s certainly important for organisations to be aware of.”

The ACCC will also keep an eye on truth in labelling, and companies may be called on to prove the claims made on their labels.

“There’s no magic test that you can apply that pops up and says, ‘No, this is a product of New Zealand not Australia’, or that sort of thing,” Mr Keogh said.

Mr Keogh said new laws would put a stop to practices that misled consumers about where products came from.

He said the labelling of ham products had been a prime example in the past.

“The pork was imported, the brine was applied to the pork in Australia to convert it to ham. Even though that pork was essentially imported pork it still allowed for a made-in-Australia label to be put on it.”

A ray of hope for farmers

Chief executive of the National Farmers’ Federation, Tony Maher, said the new labelling laws were a ray of hope for struggling Australian farmers.

“We are of the view that a lot of the Australian population would like to source, buy and consume Australian food, and the labels to date haven’t really allowed them to do that,” he said.

Consumer group Choice endorsed the new labelling laws.

Spokesperson, Katinka Day, said they gave consumers the information they wanted.

“People wanted to know whether their produce and food was coming from Australia. The new labels certainly help with that,” she said.

But, she said, they were not perfect.

Food for thought

“Where the labels fall short is in terms of identifying where overseas ingredients are from,” Ms Day said.

“In the new labels you can have something that says Made in Australia from 0 per cent Australian ingredients.

“That doesn’t really help consumers understand where their foods are coming from.”

Food that was packed and labelled before the new laws came into effect will be allowed to stay on the shelves with old labels.


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