Consumers may be influenced by a number of factors when buying goods, including claims about where a product was grown, produced or made. If you choose to make a country of origin claim, or are legally required to do so, it must be clear, accurate and truthful.
Under the ACL, certain food products offered or suitable for retail sale will be required to display country of origin information.
The ACL doesn’t require non-food products to carry country of origin labelling, although other laws may do so.
All businesses, whether they are legally required or choose to display country of origin labelling, are prohibited from making false or misleading representations or engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct about the origin of goods (both food and non-food). Country of origin claims can be made using words and/or pictures and may be:
- expressed by a statement such as ‘Made in Australia’, ‘Product of Thailand’, ‘Grown in New Zealand’
- implied by words or images e.g. product packaging with a map of Italy superimposed on the Italian flag could be interpreted as implying that the product is of Italian origin.
It’s up to individual businesses to work out what type of origin claim they should make about their goods. Businesses risk breaching the ACL if a reasonable conclusion from the use of particular words or images is that a good was grown, made or produced in a particular country when that is in fact not the case. It’s your responsibility to ensure you have a reasonable basis for any and all claims you make about goods. It’s not a defence, or an excuse, to say that you ‘didn’t know’ your country of origin claim was misleading.
The Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016 (Standard) is mandatory from 1 July 2018.
The Standard, which was made under the ACL, regulates the country of origin information that must be provided for most food offered or suitable for retail sale in Australia. It’s important that producers, manufacturers, processors, and importers, as well as retailers, are aware of their obligations under the Standard.
Broadly, labelling requirements under the Standard will vary depending on whether the food:
- is a priority or non-priority food
- was grown, produced, made or packed in Australia or another country
- is offered for sale loose or in a package.
A business is unlikely to be engaging in conduct or making claims that are false, misleading or deceptive if it is fully compliant with the country of origin labelling set out in the Standard. In the case of allegations that a business has breached the ACL by making a country of origin claim, the business would have the benefit of an automatic defence (known as a ‘safe harbour’) if it has complied with the Standard.
However, if the package displays additional images or representations that create an overall misleading impression, the business could be at risk of breaching the ACL and penalties may apply.
See: Fines & penalties
The ACCC has developed a range of resources to assist businesses to comply with the Standard.
In general, businesses can make any claims about their goods as long as they are clear, truthful and accurate. To provide certainty to businesses who choose to make origin claims, the ACL sets out ‘safe harbour defences’ for claims that goods:
- were ‘grown in’ a particular country
- are the ‘product of’ a particular country
- were ‘made (or manufactured) in’, or otherwise originated in, a particular country.
If a business satisfies the criteria for a safe harbor, they will have an automatic defence against an allegation that they have breached the relevant section of the ACL, if it relates to a country of origin claim.
Failure to satisfy the requirements of a safe harbour doesn’t mean that a business is unable to make that particular country of origin claim. A business may still make the claim provided they are confident an ordinary and reasonable consumer wouldn’t consider it to be false, misleading or deceptive.
Businesses that wish to adopt the style and graphics of the new food labels for non-food products should be aware that the use of the ‘Australian grown, Australian made’ kangaroo logo on such goods is overseen by Australian Made Campaign Limited (AMCL).
For more information on use of the logo, including fees and conditions, visit the AMCL website.
As a generic graphic, businesses do not require a licence or approval to use the rectangle bar chart on their non-food goods (e.g. to indicate the proportion by weight of ingredients that originated in a particular country). For example, a business that makes slippers using Australian sheepskin (which makes up to 80 per cent of the product’s materials) could use a bar chart shaded to the 80 per cent mark to show that the goods were made using at least 80 per cent Australian materials.
If a business wishes to use the bar chart to signify something other than the level of Australian content in a non-food product (e.g. the level of Australian ownership of the business), they must ensure that the meaning of the chart is made clear on the packaging.
A business may breach the ACL if a reasonable conclusion from the use of the chart is that the good contains a particular percentage of content from a specified country, when this is not the case.