On 2 March 2015, minority independent Federal Member, Bob Katter, introduced into the Australian Parliament the Imported Food Warnings Labels Bill 2015. This Bill seeks that all imported food products carry the label:
Warning: Imported Food. This food has not been grown or processed under Australian health and hygiene standards and may be injurious to your health.
This Bill, co-sponsored by the Hon. Andrew Wilkie, mirrors legislation introduced by Mr Katter and Mr Wilkie in 2013. Mr Katter argues that the proposed labelling reforms will educate consumers of the health risks associated with eating imported foods, and will drive Australians to buy locally.
The Bill provides that every regulated packaged food imported in Australia must carry the imported food label, every regulated unpackaged food displayed for retail sale must have the imported food label fixed to it or prominently displayed close to the item, and regulated minimally packaged food displayed for retail sale must have the imported food warning label fixed to each item or food or fixed to each retail unit of the food or prominently displayed close to the item.
The Bill creates offences for failing to comply with the warning label requirements, with a penalty of $500,000 for each offence. The importer is liable in relation to regulated packaged food, and the operator of a regulated retail food business is liable in relation to regulated unpackaged food and regulated minimally packaged food.
This issue has come to light again following the recent concern involving Hepatitis A contaminated imported frozen berries. This has prompted Prime Minister Tony Abbot to ask Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane to prepare a cabinet submission on reforms to country-of-origin labelling laws.
Any attempts to change food labelling in the past has been strongly resisted by the Australian food and beverage manufacturing industry, who have cited the logistical challenges for products whose composition changes each season and increased costs.
While these labelling changes are touted as a response to the Hepatitis A scare and food poisoning resulting from tainted imported food, increased warnings about imported food would still allow such food into Australia and would not have prevented the food contamination. Those issues need to be resolved through Food Safety Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), biosecurity and border protection.
While the Bill raises the profile of this issue, it is not expected that this private members bill will become law.