Have your say: What should Australia’s food labelling laws look like?

We’ve been making noise about seafood labelling for over a year now, and we’re slowly making progress.

Following our campaign last summer, a Senate Committee recommended that Australian ‘Country of Origin Labelling’ (CoOL) laws should apply in restaurants, pubs, clubs and cafes, all of which are currently exempt from labelling.

And after the famous berry and tuna scandals earlier this year, the Government set up its own taskforce to look into our CoOL rules. This taskforce has a particular focus on confusing statements like “Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients” – which, let’s face it, doesn’t really tell you much.

Politicians are expected to act on these matters within months, and before they do you have the chance to have a say what you want. The Commonwealth Department of Industry has created this public survey. We hope you can take a moment to fill it out – and if you’re stuck, check out our helpful guide to completing it below. It closes at midnight this Friday – so hurry!

Stop eating in the dark. Take action today.

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Why is seafood labelling important again?

To choose sustainable fish, customers need to be able to differentiate among the seafood products they are looking to buy. Clear and accurate labelling is vitally important to give consumers the information needed to make an informed, sustainable choice.

Consumers should know:

  • what species we are eating so they can know if it is from a healthy population
  • where the fish was caught so they can select fish from places that have good management, and
  • how the fish was caught or if it was farmed so they can judge the impacts on the wider environment.

Let’s focus on where it was caught. For this process, the Government is only looking at the ‘where it’s from’ bit. Here’s why knowing where your fish is from is important:

Australian consumers often assume that they’re buying Australian fish most of the time. The reality is they are mainly not. While Australian fisheries are far from perfect, management in our Commonwealth fisheries is of a high standard relative to some of the places we import our fish from, so it’s usually a better choice to buy local if you can.

Not everything imported is a bad choice by any means and better labelling will allow good imports to stand out from the crowd. But some imported products may be subject to very little environmental management and could have been produced under health and labour standards that are rightly considered unacceptable in Australia.

This tends to make them cheaper, so often they outcompete Australian-caught fish in the market – especially when people are confused about what they’re getting. The simple fact is there are major gaps in our current laws, which means you’re eating in the dark.

Take a few minutes (it took our oceans campaigner, Nat, 4 minutes, but he’s done this sort of thing before) to fill the Government’s survey and just maybe we’ll get the reforms we want.

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Need help?

Most of the questions are multiple choice things like ‘are you a member of the public?’ and ‘do you prefer pictures or words?’ – we’ll leave those up to you – but here are a few tips to the trickier questions:

Question 3 is about how important you think country of origin labelling is – we think you should tick the box that says ‘very important’, obviously (actually not that tricky).

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In Question 4 you get to explain why you think it’s important – here’s what Nat wrote, for example (he won’t mind if you copy and paste it):

Country of origin labelling is important because food, especially seafood, is produced to different standards of sustainability, ethics, and quality in different parts of the world. As a consumer I want to know that the money I am spending is going to businesses and individuals in countries or regions where they are more likely to be engaged in practices that meet my personal preferences.

My preferences include: protecting the environment; supporting local fishing jobs; supporting certain communities abroad; and ensuring that no one has been mistreated in the production of my food. Finally, if there is ever a food contamination issue, I want to be assured that food products are readily traceable back to their source.

Simply differentiating between Australian products and imported products is inadequate. Without rules requiring accurate labelling that tells me exactly where the major ingredients in my food are from, whether I’m at a restaurant or preparing my food at home, my preferences cannot be met.

In Question 13 you get to make a final comment, here’s Nat’s answer again:

Accurate Country of Origin Labelling is important for all food, but seafood is a special case. Fisheries products are the most highly traded food commodity globally and there can be very significant differences in harvesting and production standards from one country to the next. Unlike other food commodities, wild-caught seafood is the only remaining significant food-source that can be considered a genuine common resource so it’s in my interest that they are managed sustainably wherever they come from.  Fisheries are also uniquely connected to the environment because the way seafood is harvested directly impacts on supportive ecological systems and their ability to naturally replenish and be utilised into the future – that in turn affects fishing jobs.  Knowing what fish we’re eating and where it came from is essential if we’re to informed choices on sustainability.

European law recognises the need for accurate labelling, and requires that all seafood is marked with both the country it is imported from and the ocean area it was caught in.  Australian consumers deserve the exact same level of information.

Over seventy per cent of our seafood is imported.  In many cases, it is harvested or produced unsustainably and unethically, by Australian standards. Accurate seafood labelling is therefore fundamental to ensure consumers like me get to make informed choices, protect public health, encourage sustainable use of fisheries resources, and ensure food security.

Thanks for taking action to bring about better seafood labelling laws in Australia. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below – and make sure to share this post with your friends so they can get involved as well!

PS: Make sure you do it by midnight Friday, or Nat will turn into a pumpkin fish.