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Monday, 18 October 2010
Page: 406

Mrs MOYLAN (11:41 AM) —I thank the member for Kingston for bringing this important motion on food labelling before the House. Anyone who watched the story Fight of Their Lives on Channel 7’s Sunday Night program would be in no doubt of the need for clarity in food labelling. The program graphically detailed the destruction of pygmy elephant and orangutan habitats in Borneo for the production of palm oil, which under current Australian laws needs only to be labelled as vegetable oil. Following the program many constituents contacted my office worried that they have no way of determining whether the products they are purchasing in their supermarkets contain the oil originating from these destructive plantations. One constituent even said that they would no longer purchase any product they suspected of having ingredients—which could include vegetable oil, margarine, emulsifiers, coca butter substitute or palm stearine—from such plantations.

The palm oil controversy reinforces my long-held belief that consumers should be empowered with clear information so that they can make an informed choice about both the content of their food and its production origins. In recent years we have seen the Chinese milk melamine scare, which hospitalised 53,000 children and tragically caused four deaths in China. Then there was the worry that vegetables imported from China to Australia were also contaminated with melamine and a separate episode involving an E. coli scare. In fact, E. coli bacteria were found in salad leaves being imported to Australia. Consumers would be rightly horrified to learn that such tainted overseas products could make their way to Australian shelves, in some cases bearing the mark ‘Made in Australia’. As long as more than 50 per cent of the cost of production or manufacture of a product is incurred in Australia, the current laws allow the use of the ‘Made in Australia’ or ‘Produced in Australia’ label.

As I pointed out to this House in 2008 and 2009, gherkins, for example, could be grown overseas and only bottled in Australia but still bear the tag ‘Made in Australia’. In bringing the issue to the attention of the House on 10 February 2009 I called on the government to act immediately to implement not only truth in labelling but also a trace forward-trace back system, similar to the system in force in the United States, on food products. It is important that we be able to trace the origin of food and that the government move quickly to ensure that all food products be correctly labelled and retailers comply with the rules. Today I reiterate that call. Increasing concern not only about sustainable practices but also and even more importantly about the health and viability of the food industry and Australia’s food security makes addressing food labelling an extremely important issue. It goes to the health of our nation’s children as well as to all who consume food. So it is a critical issue.

As part of its terms of reference, outlined in the consultation paper released in March this year, the review to be undertaken by the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council speaks of investigating what role government should play in food labelling policy. With rising rates of obesity, diabetes, allergies and disorders related to food—not to mention the five million Australians who get a food related illness every year—the government should foremost promote healthy food options, and that means supporting locally grown, fresh produce, governed by Australia’s high health and hygiene standards.

The terms of reference also note—almost cautioning against giving too much assistance to Australian producers—that one policy reason for labelling is to ‘provide a fair playing field to competitors in the food industry’. I think we ought to be fair to our local producers and give them an even chance. As the member for Braddon said, if consumers have an option in the supermarket and at the markets, they will choose fresh over imports. We can see this through the proliferation of local growers markets all over Australia. I think it is high time that the government took note of the public enthusiasm in this regard. It is now up to the government to show leadership and political will and to make good on this very significant issue to implement truth in labelling on all food products imported into this country.