Stating the origin

How can we bag consumers' choices when they don’t have the full story?

I MUST admit to a patriotic bias when it comes to food choices - and it would seem 87 per cent of Australians share this leaning, or want to. All they need are the tools to make informed decisions.

After being poked and prodded in social situations about farming processes and techniques I’ve started using food labelling as a protective shield, and I think it’s working.

As soon as it’s made known I’m a farmer the dinner party inquisition follows. The light discussions about fluffy lambs and ewes, cute calves and cows, what they eat, when they sleep always start things off - then later the more political questions and opinions begin to flow, usually at the same rate of wine from the second case.

These sometimes heated discussions stem from a lack of awareness or access to information. Consumers get frustrated when we slam them for making poor decisions and turning their back on producers. But how can we bag their choices when they don’t have the full story?

Consumers can’t back up a well-rounded opinion when the detail on food packaging is as vague as it is small. More than 80pc of Australians have said it’s crucial or very important to know their food was grown in Australia. That’s fantastic! So why are they still buying pork at Coles? Enter food labelling.

Let’s look at the government-initiated “Labelling Logic: Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (Australia and New Zealand)”. From what I read after peeling back thick layers of red tape, this poorly designed initiative was dragged out over nearly 18 months and treated the Australian public like imbeciles, wrapping consumers in bubble wrap and removing responsibility from everyone.

I guarantee this bland spatter of information that passes for a review will be responsible for rating the “un-apparent” health benefits of a choc-coated caramel bar, “traces of nuts” warnings on a pack of Nobby’s as big as a “smoking kills” label and the use of one-syllable words so the linguistically challenged who live on white bread, chips and Coke can understand that their diet is “unhealthy”.

What it can’t guarantee is accurate origin labelling.

Country of origin, where food was packaged and grown, was mentioned just twice and didn’t feature in one question. I was pulling my hair out reading this drivel.

Only 6000 submissions were made in the eight-month consultation period. That’s .02 pc of the population. And it’s no wonder – the application to voice your concerns and suggestions for the review made a passport application look like a Rotary raffle entry.

All I can say is thank goodness for Choice, that independent watchdog who have long been an advocate of clear food labelling in Australia. They were seconded by the Senate in late 2012 to address an enquiry into the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Australian Food Labelling) Bill 2012 (No. 2).

You’ll love this: Choice grabbed over 3700 signatures on a petition for changes to food labelling in just over a week. They also stated, “We suggest that qualifiers like ‘imported ingredients’ and ‘local and imported ingredients’ be prohibited because they are general and do not support informed decision making”.

And there’s more: “We suggest that ‘Produce of’ be used for primary produce such as fruit, vegetables, seafood and meat, while ‘Product of’ would be used for processed foods where virtually all (90pc) of the manufacturing took place in the country claimed and the significant ingredients were grown in the same country”.

Wow, it’s about time!

So be prepared to see “Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients” vanish and be replaced by “Made of Australian ingredients” or “Made from imported ingredients”. Then consumers can do what they want, eat what they want and even boycott what they want.

As we well know, we do a great job of food production here in Australia. And if we can give that 87pc of the population the food they desire, we’ll be a profitable, healthy, happy and well-fed bunch of patriotic eaters.

  • Sam Trethewey is a third generation farmer from Tasmania, now based in Victoria. Sam's message is 'think clearly, get muddy': inviting everyone to be clearer in and on farming by rolling up their sleeves, learning and taking action.
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    18/06/2013 12:40:02 PM

    As a proud supporter of Australian produce I welcome all calls for clearer labelling of foodstuffs. I have no problem calling companies to determine the exact country of origin. It goes without saying that products containing GMOs should also be clearly labelled. It is our right as consumers to know what and where our food comes from. Btw Good on Choice!
    18/06/2013 6:51:34 PM

    Sam a great article... I wish we could have some of these points adapted here. Food labelling is often so confusing.
    19/06/2013 9:56:44 AM

    If you think consumers will change what they're buying just because it's got a label saying its grown in Australia, I've got a bridge to sell you in Sydney. You should never believe your own propaganda.
    19/06/2013 12:46:12 PM

    Sam, I agree if people are not able to rely on the labelling then they are not able to make an informed decision. As we say at BuyAustralianMade if people don't know what is Australian made or grown and know where and how to buy it, then they won't. We encourage people to think about the Australia they want to live in in the future and the impact that there purchasing decisions will have on that future.
    20/06/2013 8:48:09 AM

    Where does Coles buy its pork from? I try really hard to buy Australian grown food and despair for our closing manufacturers. I am obviously mistaken thinking our meat was OUR meat.
    Get MuddyTo think clearly in farming and about farming, you need to get muddy - commit, roll up your sleeves and get involved. SAM TRETHEWEY gets stuck into some of the issues facing those on the land.


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