USA went through a long drawn battle to protect its COOL (Country Of Origin Labelling) measures which were held to be protectionist and discriminatory. It seems to have inspired rather than deterred Australia from introducing its own labelling requirements. The proposed reforms to the existing rules include two aspects – whether the food was grown or made in Australia and what percentage of the ingredients in the food/product was Australian grown.
To comply with the new rules the product labels will have to carry the kangaroo figure in green and yellow with a graphic display of what percentage of the ingredients was Australian. A scale like figure below the kangaroo will be shaded in yellow to reflect the percentage. Like the US, Australia states that this will help consumers to make ‘informed choices’ about the food. Australian authorities are of the view that the measures do not seek to discriminate between domestic and imported products and are consistent with WTO rules. As opposed to the US measures which was seen as not fulfilling the objective of providing accurate information and being unnecessarily restrictive, the Australian measures are complete with graphic representation and do inform the consumer. An interesting angle to the Australia’s COOL debate is that food products from New Zealand where labelling requirements are not mandatory are allowed to be sold in Australia as per the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement and this had led to apprehension of circumvention though there was insufficient evidence of the same.
According to the new rules ‘made in’ means substantially transforming ingredients so the end product is something fundamentally different from the grown ingredients and, importing ingredients and performing minor processes on them, like slicing, freezing, canning, bottling, reconstituting or packing would not qualify as to ‘made in’. However, as per the Codex General Standard For The Labelling of Prepackaged Foods which is often emphasised as an accepted standard, when a food undergoes processing in a second country which changes its nature, the country in which the processing is performed shall be considered to be the country of origin for the purposes of labelling.