We all know and recognise the green triangle with the yellow kangaroo, a mark of products that are proudly Australian. Due to changes in the rules governing its use, we may be about to see a lot more of it.
The Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016 (the Standard) has been in place since 1 July 2016 but in a voluntary capacity only. As of 1 July 2018 Country of Origin (COO) labelling under this Standard is now mandatory, which means greater certainty for consumers who want to know whether their food is Australian made and grown. So what does this mean for you?
The Standard provides for mandatory COO labelling requirements for food that is sold (including offered or displayed for sale) in Australia. It is designed to regulate country of origin food claims by prohibiting businesses and individuals from:
- supplying or manufacturing food that does not comply with the Standard; and
- making false, misleading or deceptive representations about a food product’s place of origin.
Scope of the rules
The Standard applies to most foods offered or suitable for “retail sale” in Australia. The net is cast widely capturing anything used or represented as being for human consumption, as well as any ingredients, additives or substances used for preparing those things. There are a number of exceptions, including certain unpackaged products, products for export, those made and packaged on the premises where it is sold, and food or products sold in facilities such as schools, restaurants, prisons, hospitals and fundraisers. ‘Therapeutic goods’ under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 also escape the reach of the Standard.
The new law establishes different labelling requirements depending on whether an item is classified as a priority or non-priority food. Non-priority food categories include seasonings, confectionery, biscuits and snack foods, soft drinks and sports drinks, alcoholic drinks, tea, coffee and bottled water. Everything else is a priority food. While all foods must include a statement of origin and the minimum proportion of Australian ingredients in a bar chart, the kangaroo symbol is only mandatory for priority foods.
Grown, produced, made and packed
It is important that businesses understand the concepts that apply under the Standard to ensure that accurate claims are made about their products. ‘Grown’, ‘produced’ and ‘made’ all have very particular meanings under the Standard, referring to the provenance of the food and its ingredients, as well as changes in their size, substance, identity and character. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has released useful guidance for businesses to help them better understand these terms and their obligations under the Standard.
It is important to note that a food cannot be considered as being grown, produced, or made in Australia unless it has also been packed in Australia.
If businesses fail to comply with the Standard, they risk breaching the Australian Consumer Law. The ACCC are responsible for enforcing the new laws and will conduct market surveillance checks on over 10,000 products. ACCC Deputy Chair, Mick Keogh, noted that companies have had two years to implement the new labelling system, indicating that those who have failed to do so risk serious financial hardship. The ACCC will be scrutinising the truth in labelling so that if a company claims that its product is 100% produced or grown in Australia, the company will be required to document or provide evidence to justify that claim to the ACCC.