About the Standard
The Australian Government’s new country of origin food labelling system, Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016 (“Standard”), is now mandatory as of 1 July 2018. This follows a two year transition period since the introduction of the Standard on 1 July 2016. The new Standards require most food suitable for retail sale in Australia to carry country of origin information.
From 1 July 2018, food to be sold in Australia must be labelled according to the requirements of the Standard. However, food products that are packaged and labelled according to the Food Code on or before 30 June 2018 can still be sold without the new labels after that date.
The purpose of this law is to convey more information about a product’s origin, in a manner that is easier for consumers to understand. This information may take the form of a text statement (statements may need to be in a defined box) or a text and graphic label known as a standard mark.
When does the Standard apply?
The Standard applies to the retail sale of food in Australia (e.g. food sold to the public in stores or markets, online or from vending machines), as well as packaged food sold by wholesalers.
It requires packaged food offered for sale to carry country of origin labelling. Unpackaged fish, certain meats, fruit or vegetables, nuts, spices, herbs, fungi, legumes and seeds (or a mix of any of these foods) will also need to display country of origin labelling.
The Standard will not apply to food that is:
• otherwise unpackaged (e.g. unpackaged cheese, bread, pastries or sandwiches)
• only intended for export to overseas markets
• sold by restaurants, canteens, schools, caterers, self-catering institutions, prisons, hospitals, medical institutions or at fund-raising events (e.g. a cake stall at a school fete)
• made and packaged on the same premises where it is sold (e.g. sausages made and packed in a butcher’s shop)
• delivered, packaged and ready for consumption, as ordered by the consumer (e.g. home delivered pizza)
• for special medical purposes, or
• not for human consumption (e.g. pet food).
Even if the Standard does not apply to these products, a business may voluntarily make a country of origin claim provided that it is not false or misleading. However, if a business voluntarily adopts the kangaroo logo or bar chart, the business must comply with the Standard regarding the use of those graphics.
Different standards apply for different foods
There are different labelling requirements depending on whether the food was:
• grown, produced or made in Australia
• packaged in Australia
• grown, produced or made in another country
• packaged in another country
Businesses should refer to the Standard for definitions of the above categories, and guidelines on how to display labelling on packaging. Labelling requirements vary according to the category under which the food belongs.
While the Standard requires that all food to which it applies must carry a country of origin label, it establishes different labelling requirements depending on whether an item is classified as a priority or non-priority food. Businesses should refer to the Standard for guidance in categorising food products as priority or non-priority food.
The Australian Consumer Law
The Standard was made under s 134 of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). The ACL is a national law that sets out specific provisions relating to the treatment of consumers and is contained in Schedule 2 to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
The ACL regulates country of origin food claims by prohibiting a person from:
• supplying (or offering to supply), manufacturing, processing or possessing for the purpose of supply, food that does not comply with the Standard
• making false or misleading representations about the place of origin of goods, including food products
• engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct in relation to a claim about the origin of goods, including food products.
Enforcement by the ACCC and consumer affairs agencies
These new labelling requirements come under Australian Consumer Law which will be enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (“ACCC”), an independent Commonwealth statutory body. The ACCC is also responsible for administering the ACL, and the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Where appropriate, the ACCC takes enforcement action against businesses that breach these laws. The ACCC’s role complements that of state and territory consumer affairs agencies who also share responsibility for enforcing the Standard as well as the ACL.
If you are a food producer or retailer and are unsure as to whether your products meet the new Standard, you should take urgent steps to ensure that these are made compliant as soon as possible. Please contact a member of our team at CIE Legal for further information on how we can assist you.
This update was prepared by Daniel Marks, Partner and Andrew Thompson, Special Counsel