Country of origin food labelling

From 1 July 2018, most of the foods you buy will need to display new country of origin labels. This is required to comply with the Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016.

Different labelling requirements apply depending on:

  • whether the food is grown, produced, made or packed in Australia or another country
  • whether the food is a ‘priority’ or ‘non-priority’ food
  • how the food is displayed for sale

“It is illegal for a business to make a claim that goods were grown, produced, made or packed in a particular country when this was not the case.”

You will find country of origin labelling on most food you buy at the supermarket, local stores, markets, online or from a vending machine.

Food bought from restaurants, cafes, take-away shops, schools and caterers hwoever does not have to be labelled.

Food that was packaged and labelled on or before 30 June 2018 can still be sold without the new labels so there will be a transition period.

Types of food covered by the Standard

The Standard applies to most food offered for retail sale in Australia (e.g. food sold to the public in stores or markets, online or from vending machines) if it is:

  • in a package or
  • unpackaged seafood, particular meats, fruit and vegetables, nuts, spices, herbs, fungi, legumes, seeds or a mix of these foods.

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 and 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 and packaged 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).

Grown in, produced in, made in or packed in?

The key country of origin claims mean different things:

  • “Grown in” is a claim about where the ingredients come from and is commonly used for fresh food. It can also be used for multi-ingredient products to show where the food was grown and processed
  • “Produced in” is a claim about where the ingredients come from and where processing has occurred. This claim is often used for processed, as well as fresh foods
  • “Made in” is a claim about the manufacturing process involved in making the food

When a food has not been grown, produced or made in a single country, it will need to display a label identifying the country it was “packed in”.

It is illegal for a business to make a claim that goods were grown, produced, made or packed in a particular country when this was not the case.

Priority and non-priority goods

“Non-priority foods” must carry a country of origin statement about where the food was grown, produced, made or packed.

A product is a non-priority food if it belongs to one of the following 7 categories:

  • seasoning (e.g. salt, spices and herbs)
  • confectionery (e.g. chocolate, lollies, ice cream, popcorn)
  • tea and coffee (in dry, or ready to drink, form)
  • biscuits and snack food (e.g. chips, crackers and ready to eat savoury snacks)
  • bottled water
  • soft drinks and sports drinks
  • alcohol

Everything else is a “priority food”. For example, priority foods include fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, bread, milk, juice, sauces, honey, nuts and cereal.

Priority foods can only claim to be “produced” or ”grown” in Australia if they contain 100% Australian ingredients.

If a priority food was grown, produced or made in Australia, its country of origin label will also feature:

  • a kangaroo in a triangle logo to help you quickly identify that the food is Australian in origin;
  • a bar chart and text identifying the proportion of Australian content in the food (if any).

Businesses may voluntarily choose to provide country of origin information for 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 to be sold in Australia, they will be required to comply with the Standard regarding the use of those graphics.

Labels

The Standard sets out 3 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. The label includes:

  • the kangaroo in a triangle symbol so you can easily and quickly identify the food’s Australian origin
  • the minimum proportion, by ingoing weight, of Australian ingredients, indicated by a percentage amount and shown in a bar chart
  • a statement indicating what percentage of the food was grown or produced in Australia
Three component label

 

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. The label includes:

  • the minimum proportion, by ingoing weight, of Australian ingredients, indicated by a percentage amount and shown in a bar chart
  • a statement indicating what percentage of the food was grown or produced in Australia
The bar chart indicates what percentage of the product is Australian made, and the explanatory text spells this out in simple terms.

 

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 country of origin statement indicates where the product was made

Other claims

Sometimes businesses add words, or easily recognisable logos, symbols or pictures to their food packaging, which could suggest or imply a connection between the product and a particular country. For example, a statement such as ‘Proudly Australian owned’ next to an Australian flag tells you about the ownership of the company.

Businesses must ensure that any such representations made about their products are clear, truthful and accurate.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to consumer rights, business or commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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