New food origin labels 'may raise prices'

Australians are being told packaged food prices could go up as a result of possible country-of-origin labelling laws being drafted by the government.

Shoppers inside a grocery store in Brisbane

(AAP) Source: AAP

The cost of packaged food could go up under possible new country-of-origin labelling laws.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane have been tasked by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to prepare an urgent cabinet submission on reforms.

They have until the end of March to come up with a new system, expected to involve a simple graphic clearly indicating the percentages of Australian and imported content.

The government wants to reform labelling in the most business-friendly and cost-effective way, Mr Abbott said.

Mr Macfarlane admitted customers will have to pay more as a result.

"It will be paid for by the companies, but of course in all of this, the cost of this will flow back to the consumer," he told Sky News.

But Mr Joyce expressed doubt that would be the case.

"No," he told reporters when asked whether he thought the possible new requirements would raise the cost of packaged food.

What was now already on the package could be simply replaced, he argued.

The announcement came as the 19th case of hepatitis A, believed to be linked to imported frozen berries, was confirmed.

Australia's chief medical officer reported the case involved a Canberra resident, the first in the ACT.

After the initial outbreak, Mr Abbott appeared to warn about the additional costs and red tape of tighter regulation.

Labor welcomed what it coined a back-flip, saying it was willing to now work with the government on a bipartisan labelling solution.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned the changes would not improve consumer safety.

"If we are not careful, we will end up with multiple, inconsistent systems for determining a product's country of origin, leading to extra costs for business and consumers," CEO Kate Carnell said.

AUSVEG said it supported getting rid of confusing terms such as "made from local and imported ingredients" and replacing it with pie chart-style labelling.

Independent MPs Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie plan legislation for a different warning for all imported food products.

It would say: "This food has not been grown or processed under Australian health and hygiene standards and may be injurious to your health."

The Australian Greens already have a country-of-origin labelling bill before parliament, which it urged the coalition to support.

While arguing new labels is something Australians have been asking for, Mr Abbott said enhanced screening at the border was important too.

3 min read
Published 26 February 2015 at 8:26am
Source: AAP