Recent ACCC action is a reminder to look at the overall impression conveyed by packaging and labelling, including the colours, and not to rely on small disclaimers to correct the overall impression, coinciding with the launch of consultation on changes to the country of origin labelling regime.

Beerly local

The Independent Liquor Group Distribution Co-operative (ILG) has paid a penalty following an infringement notice issued by the ACCC. The ACCC considered that the labelling and packaging of ILG’s “Aussie Beer” represented that it was made in Australia when it was actually made in China.

For a few months in 2014 ILG supplied Aussie Beer which stated “100% owned” over a map of Australia, “made from Australia’s finest malt” and featured green and gold colours. The product was made in China.

We understand that ILG is an Australian owned-cooperative and that the labelling and/or packaging does state, although in less prominent print, that the product is made in China

Rod Sims reminds us that “country of origin representations, particularly those designed to grab the eye of the consumer by using well known symbols, colours, or slogans, must be truthful… Consumers are entitled to expect that prominent representations made on packaging are accurate without having to check for disclosures in the fine print.”

The ACCC can issue infringement notices when it has reasonable grounds to believe that certain consumer protection provisions of the ACL have been contravened, including as in this case section 29(1)(k), which relates to false or misleading representations concerning the place of origin of goods. However, ILG paying the penalty does not mean that it has admitted a contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.

Although the penalty paid by ILG is relatively small ($10,200), infringement notices are proving to be an effective tool for the ACCC. In 2014, the ACCC issued 25 infringement notices which resulted in penalties of more than $300,000 – a point Rod Sims emphasised in his recent address to the National Consumer Congress in which he outlined the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement priorities for 2015:

  • ensuring that consumers benefit from competition;
  • product safety;
  • truth in advertising;
  •  the protection of vulnerable consumers;
  •  the online marketplace;
  • scam disruption;
  • the medial and health sector;
  • industry codes including the new Good and Grocery Code of conduct; and
  • the carbon tax repeal.

You can read Rod Sims’ speech here.

Country of origin labelling regime under review

Yesterday the Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane, and Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, jointly announced that consultations and in-depth consumer research would be conducted with the intention of delivering clearer and more consistent country of origin labelling for food sold in Australia without imposing excessive costs on industry.

The announcement represents the Government’s response to the November 2014 report issued by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industry. The Committee had supported the current non-prescriptive manner in the way a food manufacturer or marketer should represent a particular food’s country of origin status – read more in our post here.