Country of Origin Labelling debate heats up

Debate is heating up over confusion caused by country of origin (CoOL) labelling descriptors such as ‘Made in Australia’ and ‘Product of Australia’. Claims were made of a conflict of interest by the Public Health Association, the Greens and others against the Government task on proposed labelling changes, due to the inclusion of Trade Minister Andrew Robb and as stronger CoOL labelling standards would contradict free trade rules.

However, CEO of the Australian Food & Grocery Council (AFCG), Mr Gary Dawson said that Mr Robb’s input is essential in order to ensure that changes to labelling rules do not result in breaching Australia’s existing international trade obligations and ensure that our agri-food exports are not jeopardised.

Mr Robb has a fundamental role to play, along with the Ministers for Industry, Agriculture and Small Business in the Ministerial Taskforce established for reform Country of Origin labelling, the AFGC said last week.

“Much as been made of the opportunities for Australian agri-food exporters which will benefit Australia’s largest manufacturing sector in food and grocery. This sector will implement these Country of Origin reforms, which should assist the positive promotion of Aussie food in export markets,” he said.

“There must also be equivalent treatment for the labelling of food imports to ensure an across the board improvement in consumer information.”

In late February in the wake of the frozen berries recall, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Kate Carnell said that changing the product labelling rules relating to country of origin will do nothing to improve consumer safety and could harm Australian producers.

“Under international rules, the key factor in determining where a product is made is where it undertakes it ‘last substantial transformation’, the process by which Swiss chocolates can be called Swiss even though Switzerland has no cocoa trees,” she said.

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