The federal government has approved a new food labelling system which will show consumers where products are made, grown or packaged.
An initial voluntary take-up of the country of origin food labels will see changes appear on the shelves later this year.
The mandatory rollout will commence in 2016, providing manufacturers with time to implement the new scheme. There will be a phased implementation period for small business.
Foods processed locally will have a new label which includes the green and gold kangaroo and triangle icon, with a bar chart showing what proportion of the ingredients are from Australia.
This will include, for example, “Made in Australia from 100% Australian ingredients”, “Packed in Australia, Made in Canada” and “Made in Australia from Australian carrots and French peas.”
It will not be mandatory for companies to provide additional information on their labels – identifying the origin of key ingredients, for example.
The green and gold triangle design was the preference of more than 17,800 respondents to the Government’s food labelling community survey.
Digital options are also being developed so consumers who want more detailed information can get it.
These reforms will also clarify the definition of “made in” Australia. Importing ingredients and simply slicing them will no longer qualify for a “made in” claim.
Under the new scheme, if a product is imported into Australia and then re-packed, the label will identify where the item came from.
The Commonwealth Government will continue to work with the States and Territories, whose agreement is required to roll out the new labels.
Consumer advocacy group CHOICE says the new scheme will still leave many consumers wondering where their food comes from.
“Unfortunately, the new system looks less useful for consumers wanting information about any of the 195 countries that are not Australia. For example, claims such as ‘Made in Australia from more than 50% Australian ingredients’ will have you asking if your frozen berries come from China, Canada or Chile,” says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey
“Unfortunately the new system leaves it up to the manufacturers to voluntarily declare the origin of a product’s main ingredient.
“CHOICE is deeply concerned that global trade agreements might have provided an excuse to deny consumers the full picture of where their food comes from, especially at a time when agreements like the TPP are being finalised in secret.
“We urge food manufacturers to be more transparent about the origin of their ingredients and take on board the option to list the main ingredients of their products.”
Aussie Farmers Direct is also not entirely satisfied with the new system.
“While Aussie Farmers Direct does not believe any food or grocery line with less than 90 % of Aussie ingredients should be associated with the ‘Made in Australia’ label, the new labelling at least gives clarity around the percentage of local ingredients and will help customers make an informed decision, said Keith Louie, Aussie Farmers Direct CEO.