Unlikely trio of politicians push for changes to food labelling laws

Federal politicians Nick Xenophon, Bob Katter and aspiring politician Clive Palmer have joined the Green’s long-standing push to tighten food labelling laws, as the politicians call for changes to support local farmers and remedy health and quarantine fears.

South Australian Senator Xenophon said in a statement the current laws are “a joke” and said changes to the system will help ensure local jobs while informing consumers if a product really is “Australian made”.

“I want food labelling to be a key election issue because current laws aren’t just useless, but misleading,” Xenophon said.

Xenophon, who introduced a parliamentary bill to change labelling laws in 2010, says if he returns to the Senate after the election there will be changes.

“If I’m back in the Senate and back in the balance of power position, I will make food labelling a key issue.

“And while the major political parties don’t seem to be taking an interest at this stage, they will have to sit up and listen if this current drive continues,” he says.

Australian Rich Lister and, more recently, political aspirant Clive Palmer announced yesterday labelling laws would be one of his party’s key election issues.

Palmer said in a statement the Palmer United Party, if elected, would ensure “uniform food-labelling reform” and endeavour to promote local producers and boost employment.

The Palmer United Party intends to introduce a coloured tag system to inform consumers as to the origin of the products they buy. If more than 5% of the product, including packing, does not come from Australia, it would have a red tag.

“If an item has 95% or more of its content made in Australia then we would be proposing a green or gold tag.

“Under the current laws, it is impossible to determine the breakdown between ingredients and packaging when an item is labelled Australian-made,” he says.

Current legislation states all packaged and some unpackaged food sold in Australia must be accompanied by information stating the food’s country of origin. If the food comes from multiple countries, this must also be communicated.

In July last year, the Greens started a push for a new labelling system which would allow consumers to better identify fruit and vegetable products which were grown in Australia.

Under the Greens proposal, the label “Made of Australian ingredients” would require 90% of all ingredients in that product to be Australian, while “Grown in Australia” would require the whole product would need to be grown in Australia.

At the time, Greens leader Christine Milne said Australians wanted to buy Australian-made food, but found it difficult because of the labelling laws.

“They find great difficulty in that, because they go to the supermarket and they pick up something and they don’t know what it actually means,” Milne said.

A Woolworths spokesperson also previously told SmartCompany the supermarket giant would be “happy to look at new labelling” as it “already does a lot in this area”.

SmartCompany contacted the Australian Food and Grocery Council for comment, but received no response prior to publication.

Outspoken politician Bob Katter’s Australian Party has also been campaigning for changes to the laws emphasising health concerns as the primary driver for the push.

Earlier this year, Katter introduced the Imported Food Warning Labels Bill to Parliament on the provision of providing “warning labels in relation to imported food”.

“Australia’s stringent regulatory environment ensures Australia retains its favourable health status and that our produce and products are safe, healthy, clean and green. However, our foreign competitors can use chemicals not approved for use in Australia.

“Australia’s agricultural industries are placed at risk by the importation of diseases and infections abroad that would have devastating economic and social impacts,” Katter says in a statement.

SmartCompany contacted Xenophon and Palmer, but no further comment was available prior to publication.

Last week, the ACCC cracked down on the Australian marketing arm of vegetable oil manufacturer MOI International for misleading consumers with its labelling by stating its olive oil was “extra virgin” and “100% Olive Oil”, when in reality 93% of the product was canola oil.



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