Country-of-origin labelling attracts global attention

02nd April 2014 - Fine Cut

Labelling regulations around the world are changing as a result of investigations and action taking place around country-of-origin information.

Australia is the latest nation to debate the issue, with its House of Representatives agriculture and industry committee launching a new inquiry on the subject in 2014.

The move has been welcomed by campaign organisation Australian Made, which stated it plans to support the exercise, having previously given evidence to committees about the issue.

According to its chief executive Ian Harrison, the country-of-origin labelling (COOL) decision is "very important" and was referred by senior ministers, adding weight to the inquiry.

"Our intention is that the food labelling requirements under Australian Consumer Law will fall into line with the more stringent rules for using the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo," he added.

"This would be well received by consumers because of the recognition and trust the logo enjoys."

Australian Made supplies a registered certification trade mark for products that have been made or grown in the country and Mr Harrison said further legislation could close loopholes relating to labelling products as Australian Made.

In addition to Australia exploring country-of-origin labelling requirements, the European Union (EU) is bringing in new legislation this year that is intended to improve food information being presented to consumers.

Under EU Regulation 1169/2011, mandatory country-of-origin or place of provenance labelling will be required for all unprocessed meat from goats, pigs, poultry and sheep.

It comes into force on December 13th 2014 and also includes provisions for mandatory nutrition information on processed products, a minimum size of text for labels and requirements to provide details of allergens. 

A recent opinion piece for the Dominion Post by the chief executive of NZPork Owen Symmans called for mandatory country-of-origin labelling for New Zealand.

Mr Symmans argued that people are becoming more concerned about what they feed to their families and urged the government to take action to require manufacturers to state on packaging where food comes from, noting that large quantities of produce are imported.

However, in the US, COOL legislation has caused tension between regulators and the government, with the US Court of Appeals turning down a request for a preliminary injunction to stop rules taking effect while a lawsuit is in progress and upholding an earlier ruling.

A group of agricultural and meat industry producers challenged laws relating to country-of-origin information, but was turned down by the US District Court for the District of Columbia in 2013 and took its decision to appeal.

The lobbyists argue the rules violate rights enshrined in the First Amendment and will increase regulatory and financial costs for the industry.

However, commenting on the latest decision, US National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson stated: "Today's decision notes that COOL advances legitimate values, including consumer information and consumer choice."

The World Trade Organization (WTO) places requirements on countries relating to COOL and a hearing was held in Geneva last month, at which parties in the dispute put their case as to whether or not revised legislation in the US meets WTO standards.

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