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Minister discusses labelling laws for 'Made in Australia' and ''Product of Australia'; says clarification of legislation will deliver honesty and truthfulness in labelling.



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PETER THOMPSON: Well, the third course for breakfast, the bacon and eggs.  In fact, we spoke about where our bacon comes from earlier this week.  I had a conversation with Melville Charles who is President of the Pig Group of the Victorian Farmers’ Federation.  He was concerned that imported pig meat from Canada was finding its way to our supermarket shelves with a ‘Made in Australia’ label.  Well, the Federal Government claims our pork industry will soon be protected under strict new rules for country of origin labelling.  In fact, in April, which is last month, new laws were introduced into Parliament aimed at setting the benchmark for this in Australia.

 

Warren Truss, Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs, joins us now on his way to Canberra Airport.  Good morning, and welcome to Radio National.

 

WARREN TRUSS:  Good morning, Peter.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Pig farmers in Victoria and elsewhere are clearly up in arms about what they would see as a labelling fiasco concerning pork which is imported from Canada.

 

WARREN TRUSS: Well, the industry does have reason for concern, but the Government has acted.  Last month, I introduced legislation to the House of Representatives to clarify the circumstances under which various claims for Australian origin can be used.  That legislation will be debated in the next sitting week and I’m optimistic it will clear away this uncertainty very soon.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Now, they claim that the pork, although raised in Canada, has ‘Made in Australia’ labelling.

 

WARREN TRUSS: Well, if there is dishonesty in labelling, that’s already a breach of the Trade Practices Act and there are one or two cases that I’ve referred to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for action.  But there has been uncertainty developing about the meaning of these phrases.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Well, can you tell us what the meaning is?  What does ‘Made in Australia’ mean?

 

WARREN TRUSS: Well, currently, there have been a range of conflicting court cases which have led to genuine confusion from manufacturers as to what the terms actually mean and, as a result, consumers have just completely lost confidence in the system altogether.  So our amendments to the Trade Practices Act will define the meanings of these terms and make it clear under the circumstances in which they can be used.  And the term ‘Product of Australia’ will be reserved for goods that are 100 per cent Australian or as near to it as you can get.  So if there’s Australian pork producers who have a local product that they want to get a marketing advantage from, that they will call it ‘Product of Australia’.  The term ‘Made in Australia’ will be restricted to goods which are substantially transformed in this country and which have the majority of their cost of production occurring in this country.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Well, in that case, it sounds like pigs from Canada, if they’re processed here in some way, could be called ‘Made in Australia’.

 

WARREN TRUSS: No, the mere processing of Canadian pig meat into ham or something or other like that in this country will not be sufficient to pass the substantial transformation test that we’ll be putting in place.  I have made it clear, and the Government has asked the Australian and New Zealand Food Authority, which has particular responsibility for food laws, to look at the special circumstances which apply for many food products and to amend the food labelling laws as required.  But if that doesn’t work, I’ve made it clear to the industry that I’m prepared to use a clause that’s included in the new legislation to prescribe logos and to deal with circumstances where there may be some doubt about the substantial transformation test, to regulate, to ensure that the mere conversion of Canadian pork into ham will not be enough to claim the ‘Made in Australia’ label.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Are you saying definitively then that any animal product raised outside Australia, if it’s imported into Australia and transformed in any way, could not be called ‘Made in Australia’?

 

WARREN TRUSS: Saying that any product that has any imported goods in it will not be able to be called ‘Product of Australia’;  unless it is substantially Australian, it is transfomed in this country, it won’t be able to be called ‘Made in Australia’.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Unless it’s substantially transformed, and that’s a lawyers’ picnic.

 

WARREN TRUSS: No, it’s not a lawyers’ picnic, it’s an internationally used term that is commonly associated with World Trade Organisation rules, and it is clear that there must be a product that is substantially different.  It can’t be like any of its ingredients, it’s got to be significantly different from any of its ingredients before it can claim that test.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Well….

 

WARREN TRUSS: … the double assurance to the pork producers that we will use the regulation-making power if, per chance, there’s any doubt about the transformation of Canadian pig meat.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Let’s go back to Canadian pigs.  They come in in frozen form;  they’re cured, smoked, packaged, presumably cut in Australia, and then sent off to supermarkets.  Under your substantial transformation test, that would not be ‘Made in Australia’?

 

WARREN TRUSS: That will not be ‘Made in Australia’.

 

PETER THOMPSON: So, in other words, what you’re saying to pig producers is:  the situation, as stands at the moment, will change.

 

WARREN TRUSS: Yes.  We’re determined that there will be honesty and truthfulness in labelling.  We’re going to sweep away the uncertainty, define the circumstances under which these various descriptions can be used, and that’s important for consumers, too, because many consumers want to buy Australian products and they need to have the confidence that when they buy something that’s claiming to be Australian, that it is indeed a product of this country, and we’re determined to deliver that degree of certainty.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Doesn’t it seem curious to you, as Minister, that here we are in 1998 even talking about basic definitions of what products can be called ‘Made in Australia’?

 

WARREN TRUSS: Well, I agree that it’s been a difficult issue for a long time.  It’s been made the more difficult by the range of recent court decisions which have increased the level of uncertainty.  A few years ago, there were some court decisions which seemed to make it clear that you couldn’t call something Australian unless it was substantially Australian and, more recently, there’s been other cases where the definitions seem to have become more clouded.  That’s why it’s become especially urgent now to sweep away that uncertainty.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Thanks for talking to us.

 

WARREN TRUSS: … but it has always been against the Trade Practices Act to make dishonest claims in labelling, and I think there have been some people who have been cheating on the system, and we need to pursue those with the full force of the existing law as well.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Warren Truss, thanks for talking to us this morning.

 

WARREN TRUSS: You’re very welcome.

 

PETER THOMPSON: Warren Truss, who is Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs, on the way to Canberra Airport this morning.