Do you know where your food comes from?
Whether you're interested in supporting Aussie farmers, reducing food miles or keeping food maufacturing jobs in Australia, it's important to know where your food comes from. But it's not always easy to tell, despite the fact that food labels are required by law to give country of origin information.
Our survey of 743 CHOICE members reveals what consumers understand and expect from country of origin labelling. We also take a look at how confusing terminology is creating a barrier to making an informed decision about what we buy.
The responses to our 2012 survey show that country of origin continues to be a very important food labelling issue for consumers, second only to the actual ingredients contained in the food.
According to our survey findings, the importance of knowing where food is manufactured is almost on a par with knowing where it is grown, in the minds of consumers:
- 84% of respondents said it was crucial or very important to be able to confidently identify if food was grown in Australia; while
- 80% said it was crucial or very important to be able to confidently identify if food was manufactured in Australia.
Similarly when asked about their reasons for buying Australian food, two-thirds of consumers said they feel strongly about buying Australian to keep food manufacturing jobs in Australia, while three quarters said they feel strongly about buying Australian to support Australian farmers.
However, the survey results also revealed a wide gap between consumers' understanding of the current claims and their technical definitions. These results reflect the message CHOICE consistently hears from consumers - that country of origin labelling is confusing, making it difficult to make informed decisions about the origin of food.
Consumer confusion around country of origin claims
In our survey, CHOICE asked consumers about the meaning of four common claims which are defined in the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) and explained in guidance
from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC):
- Consumer interpretation: eight in ten interpret 'Australian Grown' as meaning all the ingredients are grown in Australia.
"Product of Australia"
- ACL definition: only the 'significant' ingredients have to be from the country specified and, additionally, virtually all the processing was done there.
- Consumer interpretation: two thirds of respondents interpret 'Product of Australia' as meaning all the manufacturing and/or all of the ingredients are Australian.
"Made in Australia"
- ACL definition: the product was substantially transformed in the country specified and 50% of the processing occurred there.
- Consumer interpretation: 12% of consumers interpret 'Made in Australia' in accordance with the technical definition and a further 40% believe it means the manufacturing was done in Australia. However, 32% still believe it means the ingredients are from Australia, as well as the manufacturing.
"Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients"
- ACCC guidance: qualified claims that give more information than the standalone 'Made in Australia' claim do not have to meet the substantial transformation and 50% processing costs tests.
- Consumer interpretation: only 3% of consumers interpret 'Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients' in accordance with the ACCC guidance. Almost two thirds of consumers believe it means that the same substantial transformation and processing cost requirements for 'Made in Australia' must be met, while 49% believe it means the majority of ingredients may have been imported (when placing 'local' before 'imported' generally means the majority of ingredients are local).
These results show that consumers have very varied interpretations of these claims, suggesting a disjuncture between interpretation and technical definition.
What CHOICE wants
People who wish to buy Australian, and in some cases pay a premium for doing so, should know they are getting what they pay for. However, the current and confused state of country of origin labelling makes it difficult for those consumers who want to buy Australian food to make informed decisions.
CHOICE's submission to the Senate inquiry into country of origin labelling makes recommendations which we believe will help simplify the current framework and replace confusing terminology with clearly defined claims that can be easily understood.