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Tuesday, 21 October 1997
Page: 9356

Mr FORREST —My question is addressed to the Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs. Is the minister aware of the difficulties consumers have in identifying truly Australian orange juice? Juice reconstituted from imported concentrate is often packaged with the words `made in Australia' included on it. What is the government doing to prevent misleading country of origin claims being made about orange juice, particularly when it is packaged using imported concentrate, particularly concentrate from Brazil?

Mr TRUSS —I thank the member for Mallee for his question and I am certainly conscious of the tremendous work that he does in representing the citrus growers of his region and his longstanding advocacy of truth in labelling laws.

This issue is certainly one that has been of concern to Australian citrus growers and, of course, to consumers. Indeed, a number of other people have accentuated these concerns by making claims that citrus juice labelled `made in Australia' is, in fact, of Brazilian origin. The member for Oxley, who I notice is absent today—

Opposition members —Again!

Mr TRUSS —Yes, absent again. She was asking questions about this subject and in fact made allegations in the House that Brazilian citrus juice was being labelled `made in Australia'. The fact is that fruit growers have a right to be concerned when these sorts of claims are being made. Australian citrus juice has an enviable reputation for its quality, and Australian growers naturally want to ensure that the integrity of claims for Australian origin are protected.

Many Australian consumers are prepared to pay a premium to buy an Australian product, so claims that juice is Australian when in fact it is Brazilian or from some other country can damage the public confidence in the labelling system. Origin labelling claims such as `made in Australia' and `product of Australia' are regulated at the Commonwealth level under the Trade Practices Act. The relevant provisions of that act make it abundantly clear that fruit juice that is merely reconstituted or packaged in Australia from Brazilian orange juice cannot carry such descriptors as `made in Australia' or `product of Australia'. Such claims would be a clear breach of the act. A product manufactured in Australia from imported ingredients would have to have some kind of qualified claim, such as `made in Australia with imported concentrate'.

We have a very active regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, that has given a high priority to policing country of origin labelling claims. There have been a number of actions in relation to false labelling claims but not very many, I might add, in relation to country of origin. There was one recent case in relation to Florida foods in Sydney, but in that case the claims that were false on the label were multiple. There were claims that it was unsweetened when in fact it was sweetened, that it was fresh when it was not fresh and that it was Australian when there is strong evidence that some of the concentrate was imported. So there have been actions taken whenever evidence has been brought to the attention of the ACCC or the government that a false claim has been made.

I should also point out that the ACCC, along with the Australian Fruit Juice Association, has produced a code of practice aimed at preventing misleading practices in the industry. An industry complaints body determines the most appropriate sanction when a breach occurs. Of course, the ACCC can also act if there is a need for enforcement action.

The member for Mallee is as well aware as many others that this government inherited a product labelling system that was seriously flawed. We are acting to restore the integrity of the system. If anyone has a particular concern that a product is falsely labelled as Australian when it is imported then we want to know about it. If the member for Oxley can substantiate her claims that Brazilian orange juice is being labelled as Australian, we want to know about it and we will take action. If she cannot substantiate her claims then she should not seek to damage the confidence of the Australian people in the Australian fruit juice industry. This government is determined to ensure that consumers are told the truth about the origin of fruit juice and the Australian citrus industry can be assured of our determination to act in the area.