Many consumers want information about where goods they purchase come from, particularly food. If you choose to make a country of origin representation about your products, or are legally required to do so, it must be clear, accurate and truthful.
On 1 July 2016, a new country of origin food labelling system commenced under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). Businesses will have time to implement their labelling changes over a two year transition period.
The Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016 (Standard) regulates the country of origin information that must be provided for most food offered or suitable for retail sale in Australia.
The existing requirements around country of origin labelling set out in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code will remain in place until 30 June 2018. The Code is administered by Food Standards Australia New Zealand and enforced by state and territory food regulators.
During the transition period, businesses must either:
- continue to comply with the country of origin labelling requirements of the Food Standards Code, or
- adopt the new labelling requirements of the Standard.
From 1 July 2018, most food offered or suitable for retail sale in Australia will be required to carry or display country of origin labelling that meets the requirements of the Standard. However, food products that are packaged and labelled according to the Food Standards Code on or before 30 June 2018 can still be sold without the new labels after that date if the label was ‘attached’ before 1 July 2018.
A label is 'attached' when it becomes part of the food packaging. For example, if a food item is in its packaging (e.g. tinned corn) and then a label with the country of origin claim is attached (as per the Food Standards Code), this label must be attached to the packaging on or before 30 June 2018. If the label is not attached to the packaging on or before 30 June 2018, it can no longer be used on or after 1 July 2018 without changes to comply with the Standard (e.g. re-stickering).
If the country of origin claim is part of the packaging to which food is later added (e.g. a cereal box) the relevant time of attachment is when the food is added to the package. This packaging could not be used on or after 1 July 2018 without re-labelling to comply with the Standard.
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 a country of origin label. Fruit and vegetables in transparent packaging and unpackaged fish, certain meats, fruit and vegetables (including nuts, spices, herbs, fungi, legumes and seeds) or a mix of any of these foods will also need to either carry a country of origin label or have country of origin labelling accompanying it or displayed alongside it.
The Standard does not apply to food that is:
- otherwise unpackaged (e.g. unpackaged cheese, 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. bread in a bakery)
- delivered, packaged and ready for consumption, as ordered by the consumer (e.g. home delivered pizza)
- for special medical purposes
- not for human consumption (e.g. pet food).
Businesses may voluntarily make a country of origin claim about food that is exempt from the Standard, provided it is not false or misleading. However, if a business wishes to use the kangaroo logo or the bar chart on food products sold in Australia, they will be required to comply with the Standard regarding the use of those graphics.
The labelling requirements for a food item 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.
It is important that businesses understand these key terms so that they can make accurate claims about their products.
An online decision tool is available to assist businesses to determine whether they need to display a country of origin label on their food products and to generate downloadable labels. Use of the tool is voluntary and businesses must take care to ensure that, for any labels generated, the business is complying with the Standard regarding the use of that label.
Alternatively, businesses may use the downloadable label library and Style Guide to design their country of origin food labels, packaging and marketing materials.
The Standard sets out three possible country of origin labels for food, each with its own mandatory text requirements:
|Three component standard mark – a graphic and text-based label which is mandatory for priority food items grown, produced or made in Australia.||
|Two component standard mark – a graphic and text-based label which is mandatory for most priority food items packed in Australia. It may also be used for imported priority foods that contain Australian ingredients.||
|Country of origin statement – a text-only label which is used for non-priority food items. Imported priority foods must also, as a minimum, carry a country of origin statement in a clearly defined box.|
The ACL does not require non-food goods to carry country of origin labelling, although other laws may do so. In general, a business may make any origin claim provided that it is not false or misleading.
Businesses that wish to adopt a standard mark label for non-food products should be aware that use of the ‘Australian grown, Australian made’ kangaroo logo on such goods is overseen by Australian Made Campaign Limited (AMCL).
To use the logo on non-food products, businesses must be registered with AMCL and meet the criteria in the AMCL Code of Practice around the use of the logo. Fees and conditions apply. For more information, including on the process for obtaining a license to use the logo, visit the AMCL website.
As a generic graphic, businesses do not require a license 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). A business that makes slippers using Australian sheepskin (which makes up 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.
As consumer understanding of what the bar chart means will be influenced by its use on food products, 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 Australian content when this is not the case.
To provide certainty for businesses making country of origin representations, the ACL sets out a number of defences against claims of misleading or deceptive conduct or false or misleading representations in relation to goods, including food. These are referred to as the ‘safe harbour defences.’ If a business meets the criteria for a safe harbour defence they will have an automatic defence to allegations that the business has contravened the ACL by making that country of origin claim.
It should be noted that failure to meet a safe harbour defence does not mean that a business has breached the ACL, or is unable to make that country of origin claim – a business may still make the claim provided it is not false, misleading or deceptive.
If a business makes a true and accurate country of origin claim and has met the requirements in the Standard to make that claim, it is unlikely to mislead consumers.
Businesses wishing to rely on a safe harbour defence in relation to a country of origin claim made under the existing Food Standards Code must ensure that they satisfy the current criteria, including the existing 50 per cent cost of production test in regard to ‘made in’ claims.
Businesses wishing to rely on a safe harbour defence in relation to a non-food country of origin claim must also ensure they satisfy the current criteria, including the existing 50 per cent cost of production test in regard to ‘made in’ claims.