The first round of the battle launched by Tasmanian growers for tighter country-of-origin labelling on food products has been won with Australian state and federal governments rubber stamping the changes.
In a decision that will cost A$60 million unpackaged products now will have to display a specific country-of-origin label, not just a statement that the product is imported. The Food Regulation Ministerial Council decision requires country-of-origin labelling on unpackaged pork and pork products, as well as processed unpackaged seafood, vegetables, nuts and fruit.
The Tasmanian growers launched their campaign in June when McDonald's fast food chain switched half of its french fry contract to a supplier that would source potatoes from New Zealand.
The protest culminated in a tractor convoy from Hobart to Sydney and Canberra. Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran said the agreement was a significant step for producers and consumers.
"The changes will help inform consumers who want to support local producers and buy Australian-grown products," he said. "This set of outcomes is a major achievement and provides consumers with greater information on which to base decision, and provides a point of market differentiation for Australian growers."
"I congratulate the farmers who have worked so hard to keep this issue at the forefront of the political agenda," he said. "I recognise that this decision is not the end of the road, and there is more work to be done."
Growers are likely to win the second round of their fight against imports with the federal government asking Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to extend country of origin labelling to packaged products with up to two whole food ingredients.
The change would replace labels identifying only "imported product" with the ingredients' country of origin. FSANZ has previously said it would be too expensive to make manufacturers detail the origin of produce in prepackaged foods. Parliamentary Health Secretary Christopher Pyne has also asked the government to consider strengthening rules relating to the use of the labels "Made in Australia" and "Product of Australia."
"I've written to the treasurer asking to seek to review the phrases `made in' and `product of' with a view to strengthening the requirements for the use of those phrases under the Trade Practices Act," Pyne said. The Australian Vegetable and Potato Growers Federation (AusVeg) said there had been a clear push for change from consumers who were not happy.
"It's quite a change and I have to praise the government for this," AUSVEG chairman Mike Badcock said. Tasmanian Health Minister David Llewelyn said the changes were a step forward.
"At the meeting I insisted that we incorporate the issues that were raised by the farmers and the Fair Dinkum food campaign within that directive and that's been achieved," he said. "And so the chairman of FSANZ now, who sits at the table with the ministers, knows very clearly what needs to be addressed by March next year. We'll be looking at including issues like meat and poultry and so on, but we can go through the appropriate processes to do that."
The ministerial council said the application of the standard to New Zealand is yet to be determined. New Zealand Food Safety Minister Annette King said no decision was taken on its application in New Zealand. King said that because of the election cycle in New Zealand, it was not possible to take a paper to the new Cabinet before today's meeting.
"A cabinet paper has been prepared and will be taken to cabinet early next month, probably on Nov. 7," she said. "New Zealand has a number of days to notify Australia what this country's position will be on any particular standard, and we will be able to do so once the cabinet has had a chance to consider the issue."
King said there is no link between food safety and country of origin labeling, and food safety is a pre-requisite for all food sold in New Zealand, irrespective of its source. "Country of origin labelling relates only to consumer information," she said.
New Zealand has consistently argued internationally in the past against mandatory country of origin labeling as a potential barrier to trade and as a protectionist measure.