Australian Ag Minister Supports Country of Origin Labeling

Published online: Jul 11, 2005
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Newly appointed Australian Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran has offered unprecedented backing for tougher labelling laws so shoppers can easily see if they are buying Australian fruit and vegetables. McGauran, noting that issues in the horticulture industry were one of his top priorities with his new role, said he wanted consumers to know immediately and unambiguously where products were from.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand is now reviewing labeling requirements and McGauran said he would look at achieving changes through what comes out of that review.

With the McDonald's fast food chain giving half of its french fry supply contract to McCains, which gets the bulk of its potatoes from New Zealand, the question of labelling has suddenly jumped off the back burner and become a hot political topic. McDonald's had previously bought all of it french fry potatoes from Simplot which sourced its suppliers from Tasmania.

New National Party Leader Mark Vaile said he would be meeting McDonald's executives to discuss the decision. "I just want to talk to McDonald's about what this will mean for Australian growers," he said.

McGauran's promise followed a horticulture industry crisis summit where attendees were told big supermarket chains were introducing home brand ranges that used cheaper overseas products instead of Australian equivalents. He said it would be a mistake for supermarkets and big fast food chains to eschew the local industry.

McGauran committed to visiting vegetable growers in Tasmania and meeting with supermarkets and McDonald's. "The temptation to seize on transitory cheap imports is irresistible but if they allow Australian producers to wither on the vine then they will be hostage to overseas supply and pricing," he said.

The meeting proposal is a rescue plan for Australian vegetable growers to be considered by the federal government amid warnings the industry could be wiped out by imports within five years. The plan, to be presented to Federal Treasurer Peter Costello, includes tougher labelling laws to distinguish between local and foreign products and a major "buy Australian" marketing campaign.

Costello has joined McGauran in calling for McDonald's to change its mind and continue to buy its potatoes from Australian farmers.