Exporters take note: Changes to Australia’s ‘country of origin’ food labelling requirements

Under the Australian Consumer Law (“ACL”), food products offered for retail sale in Australia must display a label which clearly identifies the food’s country of origin.

New country of origin labelling requirements are set out in the Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016 (“Standard”), which was introduced in 2016 with a two-year transition period. The transition period ends on 1 July 2018, at which point it will become mandatory to comply with the Standard.

To comply with the Standard requires a clear understanding of country of origin of the food product, ingredients, supply chain, etcetera.

The Standard will apply to food exports to Australia

With limited exceptions, all food sold in Australia through the retail channel, and food suitable for retail sale without any further processing, packaging and labelling (“Retail”), is required to carry country of origin information. This includes ‘imported food’, namely food that was not grown, produced, made or packaged in Australia.

The requirements are detailed, and vary depending on a number of factors including the nature of the food and packaging, whether the food contains Australian ingredients and whether it was manufactured or packaged in Australia. But in general, most packaged imported food sold in Australia at Retail must have packaging bearing a label with:

  1. a statement of the country of origin of the food in the package; or
  2. if the food was packaged using food from more than one country, a statement that:
  1. identifies the country where the food was packaged; and
  2. indicates that the food is of multiple origins or that it is comprised of imported ingredients.

The Standard includes requirements as to form and specifications of the label, which also vary depending on the circumstances.

Under the ACL, country of origin claims and other representations, for example in advertising or on packaging, must be able to be substantiated, and must not be misleading or deceptive. Accordingly, food exporters to Australia will need to retain evidence of the country of origin of their food products, ingredients, manufacturing and packing, and must ensure that all labels are accurate and fully comply with the relevant requirements in the Standard.

Penalties for breach

The maximum penalty for a breach of the ACL is AU$1.1 million for corporations and AU$220,000 for individuals. Reforms are currently before the Australian Parliament to significantly increase maximum penalties.

The Standard is available here.

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