Ahead of the impending introduction of mandatory disclosure of country of origin on food packaging, a lawyer warned that the cost of the new laws to producers and manufacturers would particularly hurt smaller businesses.
But now another problem with the laws has emerged as an even bigger cause of concern: inconsistencies in where they are applied.
According to Jane Lovell of Seafood Industry Australia, the food labelling laws only apply to the retail sector, not the hospitality sector.
“There were no regulations placed on the food service sector and this is where confusion occurs,” Ms Lovell said.
“This means that when you go out to dine, there is no obligation for businesses to label where the seafood you are about to order and eat comes from. But this information is legally required in supermarkets and at fishmongers.”
She said that seafood is a particular area of concern, given that Australia currently imports around 70 per cent of all seafood consumed — a fact lost on most consumers.
“Twenty years ago, almost all the seafood Aussies ate was Australian seafood. Most people assume it still is, but people are flabbergasted when they find out the import rates,” Ms Lovell said.
“As a nation girt[ed] by sea, customers assume that when they dine out and order seafood that it’ll be Aussie seafood. However, we know this is not the case.”
Instead, states and territories have been taking matters into their own hands, delivering a piecemeal approach across the country.
The Northern Territory mandated country of origin disclosure on all seafood sold in the food service industry in 2008 with “minimal disruption”, Ms Lovell said. She noted that the LNP in Queensland has also promised to implement a similar measure if it wins the next state election.
Ms Lovell said that a fairer legislative framework would help consumers make more informed choices when eating out, and would also go a long way to supporting Australian producers.
“We know Australians love Australian seafood and want to support our local industry. Next to freshness, country of origin is the second most influential factor for a consumer choosing which seafood they buy,” she said.
“The Australian seafood industry has invested millions so that the quality seafood it delivers can be traced from the boat or farm, to the back door of every restaurant around the country.
“To give consumers the right of choice and seafood producers a fair go, the Australian government needs to introduce legislation so the food service sector has to label seafood with its country of origin, just like seafood retailers do.”