FEDERAL Agriculture and Water Resources Minister, David Littleproud, has written to fast food outlets urging them to voluntarily display Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) information.
Groups that are already pushing for greater labelling transparency for food service menus say Mr Littleproud is on the right track but only a mandatory labelling regime can work effectively.
Mr Littleproud issued a statement outlining a new push to advance CoOL measures already introduced by the federal Coalition government on retail food packaging, in an effort to inform consumers about imported products that can potentially damage the viability of local farmers and industry.
Seafood Industry Australia (SIA) and Australian Pork Limited (APL) are already lobbying the federal government for CoOL on food service menus, to build awareness about the impact of cheap imports, versus locally produced products.
Mr Littleproud said the Coalition government planned to discuss the issue of voluntary CoOL labelling with the fast food industry in the near future.
“Consumers and farmers fought for years for a simple label showing the consumer where their food comes from,” he said.
“The Coalition is delivering that. Simple bar graphs will show the percentage of packaged food which is Australian using labels which become compulsory on July 1 this year.
“It’d be great if fast food outlets voluntarily got on board too.”
Ausveg chief executive officer, James Whiteside, said Australian consumers preferred to purchase locally-grown food and had a right to know where their food comes from.
He said the new CoOL provided more information to consumers about their food but the new system’s impact was lessened by not being applied equally across all food groups
“The inconsistent, two-tiered approach to the new labelling is problematic for consumers, but if the fast food industry can get on board and agree to voluntarily display these labels on their food products, it would be a decisive affirmation of the right of Australian consumers to make more informed decisions about the food they buy,” he said.
“This is a good time to have a conversation to why our industry is so susceptible to competition from processing vegetable imports.
The Coalition’s new CoOL laws come into effect on July 1.
Industry support… sort of
NATIONAL Farmers’ Federation CEO Tony Mahar did not say whether CoOL in food service outlets should be mandatory or voluntary.
“The NFF has a vision for Australian agriculture to be a $100 billion industry by 2030. Up from its 2016-2017 value of $63 billion,” he said.
“To achieve this, the sector will require growth across a number of fronts.
“One such front could well be a move by ‘big fast food’ chains to source more produce from Australian farmers.
“McDonald’s spends more than $1b on food, packaging and other Australian goods and services each year and has a reputation of working with farmers to develop long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.
“Customers value that their meal is made from home-grown produce and often there is a cost benefit of local procurement.”