The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) takes an active interest in food labelling, and particularly those labels which make claims about a food’s origin. These claims are now starting to be called ‘credence claims’ (an expression that is yet to appear in any law report). Another trend is to refer to this topic as ‘truth in labelling’, a concept that extends to issues such as health and calorie claims.

The idea is that food labels that make a fuss about where the contents originated from only do so to increase market appeal. Olive oil from Spain has more attraction than olive oil from, say, Mexico even though both nations produce the product.

Given that there is a commercial benefit in origin labelling, the ACCC’s antennae often twitch excitedly when origin claims seem questionable: why should some producers obtain a benefit through incorrect labelling?  Recent news has focused on the Maggie Beer range of food products, and the ACCC’s concern that some of these labels may have caused some consumers, at least ‘potentially’, to think that the product’s contents originated in the almost mythic Barossa Valley, as opposed to say plain old Victoria or Queensland.

Here is an overview of some basic labelling principles, continually urged upon producers by the ACCC:

  • To say that a food product is a ‘product of country X’ or ‘grown in country X’ means that it was wholly produced in that country (or indeed a specific place within a country, like wine from Coonawarra). This includes when multiple stages are involved to bring a product  to market, such as cheese. In theory, the milk could be from one country, and the cheese production competed in another.
  • The claim that a product is ‘made in country X’, means that it was produced in that country, not merely packed there. Further, there are also guidelines concerning percentages of the costs of production that must be incurred in the named nation. The actual produce may not be wholly from the country in which the product was made, hence you often see ‘made in X from local and imported ingredients’.
  • Corporate ownership claims are not origin claims and depending on their prominence, and role in marketing, the possibility of misleading conduct could arise. From the news reports concerning the Maggie Beer food range, it seems that the ACCC may have been concerned with prominent labelling that stated the company was based in the Barossa Valley, even if the particular products under the ACCC’s scrutiny were not grown there.
  • Equally, logos are potentially capable of  being misleading. For instance, a prominent kangaroo or iconic Australian image could potentially cause confusion if  the contents were not made in Australia.

As with anything, the idea is to adopt a commonsense approach. Both the ACCC and Food Standards Australia have published helpful guides to assist with this approach.

Author: Bede Haines

Contact details

Sydney

Alistair Salmon, Partner
T +61 2 8083 0467
E alistair.salmon@holdingredlich.com

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Ron Eames, Partner
T: +61 7 3135 0629
E: ron.eames@holdingredlich.com

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