Additional Comments by Senator Nick Xenophon
At the outset, I strongly endorse the comments and recommendation in the
committee report. I believe the committee has presented a thorough, considered
argument supporting country of origin labelling (CoOL) for cooked or
pre-prepared seafood sold by the food services sector, and that the Government
should act on the committee’s recommendation as a matter of urgency. It is
absurd that uncooked fish sold in supermarkets or fish markets around the
country must have CoOL, but similar rules do not apply for cooked food in
takeaway shops or restaurants. This is, in a sense, allowing our laws to fail
consumers at the last hurdle.
The economic benefits of improved labelling requirements are
significant. As highlighted in the committee report, since the introduction of
CoOL in supermarkets, the trawl fishery industry increased its turnover from $4
million to over $30 million,
and sales for snapper have increased 400 per cent.
Further, during the 29 September hearing, Ms Helen Jenkins of the Australian
Prawn Farmers Association estimated that over 4,000 jobs would be created in
the farmed prawn sector alone if the CoOL requirements were extended.
Mr Chris Calogeras of the Australian Barramundi Farmers Association also stated
that hundreds of jobs could be created in the barramundi industry.
I do believe, however, that there are some areas in which the
committee’s comments could have gone further. This is particularly true in
relation to the voluntary status of the Australian Fish Names Standard (AFNS),
where the committee acknowledged the importance of a universally applied
standard but did not make a specific recommendation that this should occur.
I note the concerns of various submitters that the AFNS requires further
work before it can be appropriately and consistently applied across Australia.
I also note the views put forward in relation to sustainability and provenance
labelling, similar to the requirements currently in place in the EU, and the
significant work that would need to be done to make such a model feasible in
Australia. As such, given the importance of these issues, it is my view that
the Government should take immediate steps towards improving the existing AFNS
and working towards a more comprehensive labelling model.
Recommendation: That the Government, as a matter of
urgency, establish an expert panel to consult with industry, consumers and
other interested parties to create and establish a nationally-consistent
mandatory standard for fish names, and a broader labelling framework based on
the model currently operating in the European Union.
More broadly, it is unsurprising to see that many of the issues raised
regarding seafood labelling also apply to food labelling as a whole. The push
for improvements to Australia’s food labelling regime has so far been resisted
by the previous and current Federal Governments, despite the clear desire of
consumers to have a clearer system. This report clearly outlines, using the
example of the Northern Territory system, the benefits clearer labelling can
have to local Australian producers. It is inconsistent at best and nonsensical
at worse to deny that better labelling laws would benefit both Australian
producers and Australian consumers as a whole.
The submission from FSANZ outlines the requirements under the Australia
New Zealand Food Standards Code relating to the use of ‘generic names’ (in this
instance, the use of the word ‘fish’) in ingredient lists.
This use of generic terms applies across the board in terms of ingredient
labels and allows, for example, the use of the term ‘vegetable oil’ to cover
the use of potentially controversial ingredients such as palm oil. I note that
a recommendation in the 2011 Blewett Review addressed this issue, but has not
Recommendation: That the Government, as a matter of
urgency, undertake a review of the implementation of recommendations from the
2011 Blewett Review, and expedite action on recommendations that have not yet
The committee report also notes concerns raised by barramundi sector
regarding the use of ‘free riding’, which occurs when products are advertised
in such a way as to imply or give the impression they are Australian. The
concern with this type of labelling is that importers are benefiting from
Australia’s image of sustainable, healthy and fresh products without having to
incur any of the cost of creating and maintaining that reputation.
‘Free riding’ makes it very clear that, while the Government and regulators may
not believe there is a significant benefit in being seen as ‘Australian’,
importers disagree and will seek to use our weak labelling laws to obtain that
benefit for themselves.
Concerns in this area have been raised across a number of sectors. One
example raised with me by a constituent several years ago related to biscuits
that were being sold under the name Ozdownunder and used images that are
considered ‘Australian’ (including gum leaves and the Southern Cross) on the
packaging, but were actually made overseas. In response to my complaint, Ms
Rayne de Gruchy, then Acting CEO of the ACCC, stated:
“The ACCC shared your view that the logo used on the
packaging of the cookies could mislead consumers into believing that the
cookies are a product of Australia. In forming our opinion we considered the
location and prominence of the country of origin representation of the reverse
of the packet and concluded that it was likely to be inadequate to correct any
Recommendation: The Government and regulators should
restrict the use of images, words and phrases on labelling where it may mislead
consumers into believing a product is Australian.
Given the committee’s strong support for country of origin labelling for
seafood, and the acknowledged benefit for both producers and consumers as
outlined in the report, I hope this will lead to urgent action on Australia’s
weak food labelling laws as a whole.
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