Country of origin labelling have we left it too late?

Has it all become too complex?

Have we lost so much manufacturing capacity that we will need 10%, 20%, 30% rules ad infinitum to provide Australian consumers with the knowledge that the key nutritional ingredient is produced by Aussie farmers and it doesn’t go overseas and back in some form or other in order to be sold in this country?

Let’s take a look at some of the complexities as I understand them (and apparently there a buckets and buckets of them)

  1. The 5% rule – where ingredients do not have to be declare if they make up less than 5% of the product…..problem for country of origin and for those avoiding certain foods
  2.  Take a look at some prominent milk manufactures skim milk which is Skim milk + Skim milk powder. Apparently that’s to make it look whiter amongst other things. There is nothing wrong with skim milk powder. It is wonderful stuff to drink when you want skim milk and don’t have access to fresh milk and add to other food stuffs but should the liquid skim milk in our supermarkets be labelled ‘fresh’
  3.  Another dairy example. This time the 10% rule apparently Australia exports salt from SA to NZ to be processed for cheddar salt it is then returned to Australia for cheddar production – and cheddar is at least 10% of this salt – and the proposed changes would exclude Australian cheddar being labelled as such…ie the “imported” salt would be reclassified to represent imported. Please dont tell me we can’t process salt in this country?

I am putting my consumer hat on today and what a funny bunch of consumers Australians are. The current conundrum has been driven by a Hepatitis A outbreak currently attributed to frozen berries produced in China and Chile and packed in China.

The government’s answer to voters concern about providing safe food in this instance is Country of Origin labelling

On other hand we recently had a child die and others become very ill from what is believed to having consumed E.coli (a very nasty bacteria for young children and the frail) from raw milk produced and packaged in Australia milk yet there is a furore from some consumers and suppliers of raw milk that the government is mandating all milk should be pasteurised.

Professor Bill Bellotti makes some excellent points here  including

The unfortunate reality is that the big retailers can often source food cheaper from imports than from domestic farmers. The big retailers defend this practice by pointing out consumers benefit from cheaper food. While it is true that price is a major determinant of food purchase behaviour, it is not the only one. Other drivers include taste, convenience, and ethical considerations. One of these ethical reasons is a desire to support “local” farmers, however local is defined. So on the one hand many consumers want or need cheap food, on the other, for some at least, there is a desire to support local farmers and rural communities with their food purchases. This ethical dilemma is brought into sharp focus by the Hepatitis A contaminated berry crisis.

I often make high protein, good carbs and good fats smoothies for lunch with frozen berries

Ingredients:

  •  Fruit – most often banana and mixed berries
  • Milk – full fat
  • Plain Yogurt – no added sugar
  • Whey protein powder
  • Linseed
  • Bran – Note to self don’t add bran if you are not going to drink it straight away

Smoothies

I have traditionally kept frozen berries in the freezer for when I don’t have fresh fruit Yesterday I was cleaning out my freezer and found two boxes of these 

McCains Berries

The box proudly declares on the back McCains have offices in Australia and NZ

McCains Offices

On the side of the box it tells me these berries are a product of Chile.

Product of Chile

Like the many naive Australians I had always made the assumption McCains sourced and packed Australian berries in Australia.

As I have regular booster shots to top up my original Hep A injection I decided I would risk putting the berries in my smoothie. Don’t start me on people who don’t vaccinate their children. How serious will this situation get before we have to have a law to save the naïve ( and their children )  from themselves

As Bill rightly says

Contaminated berries are obviously not good for our health (although in principle snap frozen food retains nutritional quality). Imported berries most likely have a greater environmental footprint than locally produced ones…  and the current market and policy settings are clearly unfair to Australian producers, although presumably Chinese producers benefit.

Becoming food literate entails acquiring knowledge across these issues, forming an ethical stance, and making deliberate food choices.

As a consumer I want greater transparency without the need to take my magnifying glass to the supermarket and putting 1 day a week aside for shopping and reading labels on every side of the box

As a farmer I look forward to a labelling system that meets needs of the consumer as well as mine.

Footnote:

Looks like I am not alone in trusting a system I know little about

According to this story in BRW the Patties’ recall shows the risks of substandard supplies to hospitality businesses.

Jim Barritt used to bake berry muffins for guests staying at his Sebastopol motel on the outskirts in Ballarat in regional Victoria. One afternoon in mid February he logged into Facebook and discovered the frozen fruit he used was subject to a recall.

“The sad reality is that I used Nanna’s products because I trusted the brand implicitly, partially because I lived in Bairnsdale for 16 years before moving to Ballarat when we bought this motel,” Barritt says. “I was sufficiently confident in the company and its products that I didn’t even think to check the source information on the packaging as I foolishly believed that the product was grown and produced in Victoria.”

In fact, the berries were grown in China and Chile, packaged in China and sold in Australia

Barritt’s experience shows how most of the food supply chain still relies upon trust between suppliers and customers. For Barritt, he’s not sure when the berry muffins will be back on the motel’s menu. “From now on the key focus will not be on price, rather the origin and I have certainly learned not to be complacent when it comes to sourcing products for either my guests or my family,” he says. Last weekend he made his first batch of muffins using fresh, locally grown berries.

See full story How to avoid the fate of Patties Foods, the company behind the Hep A berry scare

One thought on “Country of origin labelling have we left it too late?

  1. Tis a pity that we look to our Government to resolve the labelling problem.
    This issue was resolved in 2012 with a clear and concise Logo that enable genuine Australian producers and manufactures to display their Australian input credentials.
    The Buy Australian Logo exposes the false hoods allowed under our current labelling rules. The Rules of Use ensure it reflects those values sort by consumers.
    Big business will not willing adopting it as they would not appreciate the transparency.
    Remember the label/term Australian Made is not your friend….those who believe it is are part of the problem.
    buyaustralianlogo.com.au

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