Country of origin food labelling surveillance to commence 1 July

From 1 July, Australian consumers will have much greater certainty about the origins of the food they buy due to the introduction of mandatory Country of Origin food labelling. 

The Australian Competitor and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will conduct market surveillance checks on 10,000 food products to ensure businesses are correctly displaying the new labels.

All businesses, including manufacturers, processors and importers that offer food for retail sale in Australia, will need to comply with the Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard, which specifies how claims can be made about the origin of food products.

The new requirements will apply to most food offered for retail sale in Australia, including food sold in stores or markets, online or from a vending machine. It does however, exclude food sold in restaurants, cafes, take-away shops or schools.

“Consumers should look out for the new labels if they want to find out where their food is grown, produced, made or packed, so they can make an informed decision about the food they buy,” says ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh.

“We’ve been providing guidance for businesses over the past two years about the new food labelling system, including how to apply and interpret the standard. We are now entering the compliance phase, where we are making sure businesses are presenting accurate information about country of origin to their customers.”

The ACCC’s market surveillance aims to identify businesses that may not be complying with the food labelling laws.

“We have people on the ground to carry out these inspections and will initially focus on fresh or short shelf products sold by supermarkets, both large and small. We will raise concerns with businesses where we believe there is an issue with country of origin labelling. As always, we are able to escalate cases which warrant stronger action,” Mick says.

“Some consumers are willing to pay extra for products grown, produced or made in Australia, and producers and importers should be aware that any claim which is likely to mislead consumers will also be a breach of the law. We just want to ensure that consumers can make informed choices and businesses have a level playing field to compete fairly in relation to these claims.”

To claim that a food with imported ingredients was ‘made in’ a particular country, processing in that country must have created a product that is fundamentally different in nature, identity or essential character from the imported ingredients that went into it. Minor processing which only changes the form or appearance of imported goods, such as crumbing an imported prawn or reconstituting an imported juice concentrate, will no longer be enough to justify a ‘made in’ claim.

The labelling requirements will vary depending on whether the food is a priority or non-priority food or was grown, produced, made or packed in Australia or another country.

Priority foods include meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables, most dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt and cheese, breakfast cereal, bread, nuts, honey and non-carbonated fruit juices.

Priority foods that are grown, produced or made in Australia will need to be labelled with a ‘three-part standard mark’ label which features the well-known image of a kangaroo in a triangle, a bar chart that shows the proportion of Australian ingredients and descriptive text.

Non-priority foods include seasonings, confectionary, biscuits and snack food, bottled water, soft drinks and sports drinks, tea and coffee, and alcoholic beverages. Non-priority foods will only be required to carry text country of origin statements under the Standard. Imported foods must also display country of origin labelling under the Standard.

The ACCC, along with state and territory fair trading agencies, will be responsible for enforcing the standard.

The ACCC has a number of materials available to assist businesses and consumers:

Country of origin food labelling guidance (guide)

How to display the standard marks (visual guide)

Country of origin food labels in store sign (sign)

Country of origin representations: making a ‘made in’ claim (link is external)(video)

Guidance for consumers on country of origin claims (web guidance)

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