Harmonisation of national standards
This chapter examines the feasibility of harmonising lamb branding and
marketing standards throughout Australia, and ensuring effective supervision of
such standards. It canvasses options for achieving consistency and makes
Achieving national standards
The vast majority of submissions received and evidence heard by the
committee strongly supported the need for consistent lamb branding standards,
and application of these standards, across the country. As pointed out in chapter
2, there is a range of different regulatory and compliance practices across
federal and state jurisdictions that underpin, to varying degrees, the practice
of lamb branding.
There have been attempts over the past few years to examine and, if
feasible, achieve national consistency of standards. AUS-MEAT advised the
The matter of uniform domestic regulation for truth in labelling
meat description has been raised on several occasions in the past particularly
in relation to Lamb branding and retail labelling of beef products. The options
available for underpinning various elements of domestic meat marketing have
been investigated by industry stakeholders and peak bodies from time to time.
AUS-MEAT advised further that the options for uniform statutory
underpinning of domestic meat description have been identified as:
- Enacting uniform licensing standards individually by each state;
- Incorporating trade description requirements into AS 4696:2007 – Australian
Standard for the Hygienic Production and Transportation of Meat and Meat
Products for Human Consumption to which each of the states currently
- Incorporating trade description requirements into the Food
Standards Code; or
- Establishment of a Voluntary or Mandatory Prescribed Code under
the Trade Practices Act 1974.
Each of these statutory options requires the full agreement of all
industry stakeholders and the various state and Commonwealth authorities. This
has not been achieved to date.
A nationally commercially driven
In 2002 the Sheepmeat Council of Australia and the National Meat
Association commissioned AUS-MEAT Limited to prepare a comprehensive report
entitled Harmonisation of Lamb Meat Description in Australia. The report
was updated and revised in April 2008.
The report was aimed at investigating the likely impacts of state deregulation,
and what the range of co-regulatory, legislative or other options were
available to the industry should deregulation occur.
The report noted that:
When considering the options available and the past government
position with regard to self-regulation it would appear that a commercially
driven National Industry self-regulated program may be the only avenue to pursue.
A similar framework has recently been successfully implemented within the
processor sector through agreement between the retail sector and processors
with respect to the processing and retail marketing of "Budget Beef".
The key factor for success in that program was the agreement reached between
the retail and processing sectors culminating in a binding code or agreement on
both parties. Within the processing sector the standards were progressed through
the Peak Councils to the Australian Meat Industry Language and Standards
Committee who endorsed the program's inclusion within the AUS-MEAT National Accreditation
The updated (April 2008) report noted that the 'prior to the
establishment of a national program for Lamb branding there are a number of
critical success factors' to be addressed. These included:
- an industry-agreed definition of 'Lamb';
- a national standard for assessing carcasses at slaughter;
- an effective Company quality Management System for the
application of the Lamb roller brand;
- a third party auditing program;
- sanctions such as removal of brands and/or accreditation;
- sufficient resources to maintain the program;
- an education program targeted at all sectors, including
wholesalers and retailers; and
- ideally, support for the program from state and territory
It was noted that 'an impediment to the market driven approach was the
significant number of lambs being processed for the domestic market by
non-AUS-MEAT accredited establishments (around 50% of lambs in NSW)'.
A key question was how AUS-MEAT, as administering the national standard, would
be able to protect the integrity of lamb, when not all processing
establishments were AUS-MEAT accredited. Those domestic AUS-MEAT accredited
establishments would be financially disadvantaged if a lack of market forces
meant that some establishments chose not to participate.
The Sheepmeat Council and the Australian Meat Industry Council are currently
working closely to investigate the regulatory systems underpinning the lamb brand
and the options for the development of an affective national compliance scheme.
This united producer and processor stance is significant. The two organisations
established a lamb definition working group and terms of reference in late 2007
and supported a detailed lamb definition work plan in March 2008.
Mr Christian Mulders of the Australian Meat Industry Council advised the
The purpose of our review is to deliver an objective and
scientifically and economically sound analysis of the relevant issues, which
will enable peak councils to make informed policy recommendations and
decisions, in the hope of improving the current systems supporting the Australian
The combined Sheepmeat Council/Australian Meat Industry Council's Lamb
Brand Control and Verification Review, co-funded by Meat and Livestock
Australia, contains the following elements:
- Element 1.1 is investigating the extent of misdescription within
the current lamb standard;
- Element 1.2 will investigate the range of state and federal
systems regulating the standard; and
- Element 1.3 will investigate the options for an effective
compliance scheme that can be consistently applied across the entire Australian
Mr Christopher Groves, President of the Sheepmeat Council of Australia,
told the committee that:
The results of the Sheepmeat Council and Meat Industry Council
lamb definition work plan are expected from mid-2008 and are directly relevant
to the deliberations of this Senate inquiry into meat marketing. The
information delivered under the work plan will assist both the Sheepmeat
Council and AMIC to recommend policy positions that will improve and harmonise the
current systems underpinning the integrity of the lamb category. Sheepmeat
Council trusts the information delivered under this definition work plan can be
directly fed into the Senate committee’s discussions later this year prior to
the committee’s inquiry being finalised.
Mr Mulders advised that:
AMIC requests that the standing committee take into
consideration the following during its current inquiry: that the relevant peak
councils have taken a collaborative approach to investigate the lamb
truth-in-labelling issue; that the industry is currently conducting a very comprehensive
analysis of the issues surrounding the lamb truth-in-labelling issue, including
formulating potential solutions; and that the relevant peak councils have
agreed that, once this information becomes available and has been considered,
we will be making informed policy recommendations and decisions aimed at
improving the current systems supporting the Australian lamb category.
Throughout this process, we will be more than happy to provide the committee
with progress reports.
The committee notes the view of the Commonwealth Department of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) that:
The basis for maintaining accurate trade description is to
ensure consumer confidence in their integrity of the product. Through the
industry-owned standards body, AUS-MEAT Ltd, arrangements for product
description are in place. It is important for industry to adopt a leadership
role and develop an appropriate response on this issue.
The role of government
As noted in chapter 2, there is a range of regulatory systems at the
Commonwealth and state level in relation to the practice of lamb branding. The
regulation of meat processing establishments in Australia servicing only the
domestic market is the responsibility of the states and territories.
Within DAFF, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS)
Export Division facilitates the export of Australian agriculture and food
products by providing information, inspection and certification to meet import
requirements of overseas countries.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), through its
administration of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (TPA), also has a
role. Mr Nigel Ridgway, General Manager, Compliance Strategies Branch, ACCC, stated
To the extent that I am familiar with the issues being
considered by the committee, the Trade Practices Act obviously already has
provisions that prohibit misleading or deceptive conduct. To the extent that
there are concerns about products being wrongly labelled and therefore arguably
misrepresentations being made about the nature of that product, the ACCC
already has a role that complements the work of the state licensing authorities
and so forth.
The Primary Industries Ministerial Council (PIMC) provides a forum for
Commonwealth-state co-operation. PIMC consists of Commonwealth and state and
territory ministers responsible for agriculture, food, forestry and fisheries.
It is the peak government forum for consultation, co-ordination and, where
appropriate, policy implementation by governments on primary industries issues.
The committee examined the extent to which the Commonwealth is able to
compel the states to legislate with respect to product description or
labelling. The committee was advised that as the power to regulate food is not
listed in Section 51 of the Constitution, the power to regulate food rests with
the states. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry told the Committee
The commonwealth cannot compel the States to legislate in a
particular way or at all. However, any valid Commonwealth legislation can
override inconsistent State legislation. The Commonwealth has the
constitutional power to regulate product description in relation to interstate
and overseas trade, in the territories and in relation to products offered for
sale by trading corporations. It cannot regulate product description generally.
Therefore, without a referral of power from the States, it cannot regulate
product description by individuals or partnership in relation to trade within
the States that has no interstate element.
As noted in chapter 2, state authorities have increasingly indicated
their desire to deregulate lamb branding provisions, viewing them as a quality
standard for industry to manage, and not in line with their perceived primary role
of food safety and hygiene.
The committee noted that New South Wales and Western Australian meat
authorities appear to police lamb branding standards relatively rigorously. These
state government representatives outlined the scope of their operations. The
NSW Food Authority noted that:
Generally in New South Wales...we audit the plants. We do not
utilise commercial auditors, as other states do, so all of our officers do the
audits of the plants for the authorised government officers. All of our audits
are unannounced. We do a full audit not only on their operations from
inspection practices, hygiene, structural, but also lamb identification
procedures inside that works as well. That includes a full review of their
records going back to the pre-abattoir sales, to saleyards, to farms...
Generally, where we find issues, we will take action on the spot and also
launch any sort of prosecution if the evidence permits us to do that. We will
actively investigate any allegations the authority receives, in terms of New
South Wales plants...We do effectively regulate that industry in New South
The Western Australian Meat Industry Authority stated that:
The [WA] legislation specifies that it is a function of the
authority to implement schemes and practices for the branding of any carcass or
meat. The definition of ‘lamb’ is actually a prescribed product...in this state
and the authority is responsible for ensuring or more regulating the lamb
branding in this state to ensure that all product produced in this state
defined as lamb must be proved to be lamb and branded accordingly...unless the
animal is lamb and determined as lamb at the point of slaughter, you cannot
sell it as anything else. So mutton and hogget cannot be sold as lamb here.
In Queensland, Safe Food Production Queensland indicated that they would
consider adoption of the Western Australian approach:
We would certainly have a look...we are very much in favour of
national consistency in food regulation and we have worked tirelessly at the CEO
level and at the senior policy people level in Safe Food Queensland to
contribute to the national policy development arrangements. So if something
like that were suggested by the committee and went through that process within
the standing committee level and then at the ministerial council level, we
would certainly consider it. It would be a matter for the government.
The Victorian Department of Primary Industries indicated that they would
consider any recommendations of this inquiry to ensure food safety objectives
are achieved and those that provide a 'consistent approach to the management of
When asked if industry would use, say, the New South Wales standards or
legislation to be the template to be considered nationally, Mr Groves of the
Sheepmeat Council of Australia advised:
That is one thing that will come out of the work that has been
done between the Sheepmeat Council and AMIC because there are a number of
national bodies that are involved in the meat industry. I mentioned a couple:
AQIS; AUS-MEAT. To avoid a lot of duplication we have to see if this will fit
in somewhere there—if there is a need to start a completely new set of regulations
or if we can fit this particular role into one of those organisations as well.
The New South Wales Food Authority consider it to be very important that the
lamb definition is enforced. They do various raids on abattoirs around the
country, quite regularly, quite unknown. That is why it is upheld fairly well
in New South Wales.
The committee notes the view expressed by Mr Scott Hansen of Meat and
Livestock Australia that:
I do not think any industry likes the concept of adding to its
regulatory burden if there is an alternative approach available. I guess that
is one thing that we will be looking for—whether there is. If there is not,
however, I think that we welcome the fact that, as the senator raised before,
it took a trigger from this inquiry to raise this issue to the fore again. In fact,
we will be needing government support, because obviously the answers in this
may well lie in a government agreement from state and federal governments.
Industry codes of conduct
A number of options are available should the industry wish to develop a
code of conduct to establish standards for labelling of sheepmeat products.
Such a code could be a non-prescribed voluntary industry code of conduct, a
prescribed voluntary code of conduct or a mandatory code of conduct.
A non-prescribed voluntary industry code of conduct is administered by
the industry itself and sets standards that are voluntarily administered by the
industry. The Commonwealth Government does not have a role in enforcing non-prescribed
voluntary industry codes of conduct.
A prescribed voluntary code of conduct is a code that is binding on
signatories and is enforced by the ACCC under the TPA. A breach of a prescribed
voluntary code of conduct is also a breach of the TPA. A mandatory code would
be administered and enforced by the ACCC and is binding on the industry it
The ACCC provided details of the operation of voluntary and mandatory
codes of conduct:
Distinguishing between prescribed voluntary codes and mandatory
codes, mandatory codes apply across an entire sector and industry, as described
by the government as it brings the code into being. For example, the
franchising code applies to all franchise traders in Australia and the
horticulture code applies to all wholesalers and growers in the supply chain.
With a prescribed voluntary code, the framework provides that certain traders
within an industry may be subject to a code once they subscribe, but it would
not be intended to apply to all traders in that particular sector. So, using
the franchising sector as an example, if there were a prescribed voluntary
code, it would apply to only those franchisors that sign up to the code and
agree to be bound by it. There is of course a question of what incentive
traders would have to sign up to a prescribed voluntary code. I think that has
been explored once or twice, but that is probably a question that would need to
Irrespective of whether state systems are retained or a uniform national
system is developed the NSW Food Authority argued that the development of a
mobile organoleptic test to detect the age of sheepmeat, as discussed in chapter
2, and the institution of more un-announced audits by relevant agencies would
be beneficial in reducing sheepmeat substitution.
The committee notes the fact that rules relating to 'mouthing' and
branding differ from state to state, and that evidence brought before the
committee indicates that authorities in New South Wales and Western Australia
take a relatively strict approach in terms of auditing, compliance and applying
sanctions. These models may provide useful benchmarks for the study currently
being undertaken by the Sheepmeat Council and AMIC. The committee accepts that,
in practice, there may be difficulties in ensuring that all states have
identical levels of compliance, but notes that there may be scope to better
align basic standards pertaining (for example) to 'mouthing' requirements.
The committee notes the possibility of introducing a successful national
commercially driven self regulating program and supports exploring the
development of an appropriate industry code of conduct with the assistance of
The committee notes the role of AUS-MEAT in ensuring compliance within
those domestic enterprises that chose to be AUS-MEAT accredited. The committee
understands that when AUS-MEAT was established in 1987 a decision was taken to allow
voluntary accreditation for domestic-only meat slaughtering and processing
establishments. The committee recognises that there are costs involved to the
establishment in becoming accredited, in that the plant needs to have trained
and competent personnel to carry out certain functions. Staff must be trained
to meet the AUS-MEAT standards and AUS-MEAT inspections involve a charge.
However, the costs associated with inspections decrease as establishments meet
mandatory quality standards, at which stage they are visited once a year. The
committee understands that some large supermarket chains prefer their meat to
be sourced from AUS-MEAT accredited establishments.
The committee's view is that AUS-MEAT accreditation for all domestic
processors, apart from perhaps the very smallest, may be seen as an investment
in the particular enterprise's own commercial standing as well as contributing
to the overall integrity of the industry.
The committee recognises that the vast majority of evidence received
during the inquiry supports the need for consistent lamb and labelling standards
to be mandatory across Australia. The committee recognises also opposing views
that lamb is unique amongst food groups in Australia to be 'forced into
regulation' and that 'regulated branding should not be a government matter but
rather a commercial matter for companies to brand product as they see fit
within the parameters of truth in labelling'.
The committee's view is that, given the comprehensive and collaborative industry-led
exercise currently underway, the findings of the review should be considered by
all stakeholders before taking decisions as to the way forward.
The committee commends the collaborative approach by the Sheepmeat
Council of Australia, the Australian Meat Industry Council, Meat and Livestock
Australia and AUS-MEAT limited to examine concerns about maintaining the
integrity of the lamb brand and to find innovative ways to address the
situation. This is particularly relevant in the light of different approaches
by state governments and the separation in some cases of regulations relating
to meat slaughtering and processing and those related to truth-in-labelling,
consumer rights and fair trading practices. The committee received advice from
SCA and AMIC that this work is expected to be completed by 19 December 2008.
3.37 The committee recommends that the Minister for
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, through the forum of the Primary Industries
Ministerial Council, seek the support of state and territory primary industries
ministers to harmonise national standards for all domestic meat slaughtering
and processing establishments. The committee further recommends that,
regardless of the model adopted, the harmonised national standard must include
maintenance of dentition as the standard for classifying an animal as lamb and
must require that 100 per cent of animals classified as lamb are mouthed at
3.38 The committee recommends that the Minister for
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, through the forum of the Primary
Industries Ministerial Council, consider the costs and benefits of applying the
West Australian standard as the model for national harmonisation including
examination of compliance and enforcement issues.
3.39 The committee recommends that the Minister for
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Minister for Competition Policy and
Consumer Affairs consider, when available, the findings of the Sheepmeat
Council of Australia and the Australian Meat Industry Council's review of Lamb
Brand Control and Verification. The committee recommends that, where
appropriate and feasible, the relevant Commonwealth agencies assist the sheepmeat
industry to implement recommendations arising from the review.
Senator Glenn Sterle
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