This week, the Australian Government approved a new labelling system for food products. 

Manufacturers and small businesses that sell food products must be alerted to the new requirements as the new labels “will begin to appear on supermarket shelves later this year”.[1]

In this Alert, Special Counsel Brett Bolton and Solicitor Borcsa Vass report on the new measures. 

Review of Australia’s country of origin labelling laws

This week’s announcement is part of the review of Australia’s Country of Origin Labelling laws which came into effect in February this year.  The review was a response by the Federal Government to a significant number of complaints about various contaminated food products that have hit supermarket shelves in Australia, including the notorious episode at the beginning of the year when frozen berries imported from China were alleged to be contaminated with Hepatitis A.

In a previous alert we wrote that a recent survey had shown that barely one in ten people were able to correctly identify the meaning of the term “Made in Australia” (see “What frozen berries could now mean to trade mark owners”).  The new labelling system will require businesses to label their products more specifically and identify what is “Australian” about the product. 

Mandatory roll out of the laws is expected to commence next year when the State Governments come on board.  However, the Federal Government anticipates that the new labels will be voluntarily rolled out by some companies by the end of this year.

The purpose of the new laws is to provide consumers with better information about exactly where food products come from.  A product’s origin is frequently a significant factor in a consumer’s decision to purchase it.  A product’s country of origin can be a way for businesses to differentiate the product, and justify charging a premium price for it.  The new laws are also designed to ensure that the representations businesses make to consumers on labelling about where their products have come from are correct and not misleading.  

The new proposed labels

The new labels will look something like this.[2]  The familiar green and gold kangaroo in a triangle will be accompanied by a scale showing the percentage of the Australian ingredients in the product.  Notably, the labels do not expressly require the label to contain a statement as to where the balance of the product came from.

Additionally, products that are entirely grown in Australia will have their own label making this clear.  Products that are simply packed in Australia will need to state this and also identify the source or origin of the product.