The answer is – not much still. Though given the Hepatitis A food scare it seems there is appetite for change.
The Prime Minister had in February announced a multi-Ministerial task force to develop country of origin label reform for food and beverages “by the end of March”, which stemmed from the public and media response to the Hepatitis A frozen berry incident. However the latest reporting indicates that any announcement of new laws will be delayed until at least August. The use of the ‘kangaroo in triangle’ image and shaded bar or Australia map based on proportion of local ingredients, still seem on the cards, though new logos and the use of smartphone apps are also being mooted.
The main reason for delay is to allow face to face consultation with industry, and online consultation with consumers, to commence 21 April (see here for details), with a paper intended to be released ahead of industry meetings.
It’s a sense of de ja vu however, given the 11 past inquiries into food labelling since 2003, and a number of failed bills before Parliament seeking to change how origin is represented (as we’ve previously reported). What is most surprising is that only last year, MPs Barnaby Joyce and Ian MacFarlane (each involved in the current multi-Ministerial taskforce) had referred the issue of country of origin to the House of Representative Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industry who produced a report with 8 recommendations after receiving 54 submissions and conducting 7 public hearings (see our report here), however there was a failure from the Government to respond or act. Yet only 6 months since the Standing Committee’s report, the further consultation on country of origin continues.
However given the hysteria raised by the frozen berries situation (even though country of origin changes would not have avoided the Hep A contamination), and the Government’s stated commitment to reform, changes to country of origin do this time seem likely. We think that food businesses therefore should seriously consider their position and use the industry consultation process to vocally raise any concerns.
Interestingly, New Zealand seems to have no plans to change its approach of a non-mandatory scheme, continuing to remain exempt from Standard 1.2.11 (Country of Origin) of the Food Standards Code and instead rely on the general consumer law prohibition against false, misleading or deceptive representations.