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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10248

Food Labelling

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:40): My question is to Senator Ludwig, the Minister representing the Minister for Health. On 28 January 2011 Dr Neal Blewett presented his report Labelling logic—the final report of the Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy, commonly known as the Blewett review, to the government. The government released its response to the Blewett review on 30 November 2011 in a joint statement by the then Minister for Health and Ageing and the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing. The statement said, 'The Gillard Government believes consumers want food labelling that provides them with information that will help them make informed decisions about what they buy and eat'. Given that it has been almost two years since the Blewett review was released, can the minister indicate how many of the 61 recommendations made by Dr Blewett have been implemented?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:41): I thank Senator Xenophon for his question. The Gillard government is taking action to improve the clarity of food labels for consumers, while supporting suppliers and Australian industries. The Gillard government understands that food labels are a critical tool to communicate important information to consumers about what they buy and eat.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator LUDWIG: Mr President, I know those opposite are not interested in the Blewett report, but I do know Senator Xenophon is.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Ludwig, resume your seat. Senator Xenophon is entitled to hear the response. Senator Ludwig, continue.

Senator LUDWIG: Thank you, Mr President. We are committed to ensuring that food labels are clear, accurate and enable consumers to make informed choices about the food they buy. The government response to the Blewett review of food labelling law and policy reflects the need to improve information about food labels while maintaining market flexibility and minimising barriers to trade and regulatory burden on industry.

So there have been a series of projects which are in progress to implement the government's response to the Blewett review over the next five years. The vast majority of recommendations are currently being implemented. The government has of course prioritised the work on the recommendations that the ministerial forum has agreed on, and good progress is being made on issues like front-of-pack labelling, the finalisation of health claim standards and many others. Food Standards Australia New Zealand has been tasked with the majority of the implementation of the agreed recommendations and began work from December last year.

It is worth bearing in mind that the ministerial forum's response to Blewett was a response by all state and territory governments as well as New Zealand, and in that respect work on the agreed recommendations is not being tasked solely by the Commonwealth government. The forum on food regulation, which is the meeting of all jurisdictions and which I will also be attending, is being held in the next week in Brisbane and will consider the next steps on important issues—

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:43): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister please answer how many of the 61 recommendations have been implemented to date? Furthermore, the Blewett review made a specific recommendation regarding the labelling of fats, sugars and vegetable oils. It recommended that the generic term such as 'added vegetable oils' be followed by a bracketed list that specified the actual product, for instance palm oil. If the government recognises that consumers want food labelling that is meaningful, that will help them make informed decisions on what they buy and eat, why does it not support this particular recommendation?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:43): I thank Senator Xenophon for his supplementary question. In response to the Blewett review government ministers from around Australia with responsibility for food regulation will consider possible changes to the way ingredients are declared on food labels. The minister has requested that FSANZ undertake a technical evaluation and provide advice about recommended changes to ingredient labelling, including for specific palm oil labelling.

Such advice will assist in assessing the expected benefits and cumulative impacts of possible changes to labelling requirements before any amendments to the code are considered.

So all food for sale in Australia, whether produced domestically or imported, is required by law to comply with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. The code requires the ingredients list on a food label to declare the presence of fats and oils, and whether the source is animal or vegetable. (Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:45): Mr President, I asked a further supplementary question. A few days ago I spoke to an orange grower in the Riverland in South Australia, who said that he had been forced to plough his oranges into the ground because he cannot compete with imports of cheap Brazilian orange concentrate. The main reason that he says he cannot compete is because Brazilian orange juice is imported into Australia, mixed with water and Australian pulp to give the juice an orange colour, put in a carton and labelled as 'made in Australia'. Does the government acknowledge that delays in implementing meaningful reform to food-labelling laws are destroying the livelihoods of Australia's farmers?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:45): No, I do not. The last part of that, I reject.

I do understand that many in the citrus industry are doing it tough, and for many and varied reasons right across the regions that grow our wonderful product. The best thing that we can do as Australians is to eat Australian apples—use them, buy them and juice them.

I acknowledge, though, that the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code mandates country-of-origin labelling for packaged food and unpackaged fresh and processed vegetables, seafood and pork sold in Australia. The government has already made changes to the Australian Consumer Law to provide a 'grown in' claim in addition to the existing 'made in' and 'product of' claims. You can identify 'grown in' oranges in the supermarkets and, as Australians, you can purchase them. Using the 'grown in' gives industry another way of meeting the mandatory declaration of country of— (Time expired)