MORE than 95 per cent of consumers do not know that when they buy food marked 'Australian Made', they could be buying food that has been grown overseas, according to a policy officer for Queensland's biggest horticultural group.
Australia's food labelling laws have again come under fire in a submission to an ongoing Senate Committee inquiry into the nation's food processing sector.
The submission, by Queensland vegetable and fruit growing group Growcom, said that as long as an imported food was 'substantially transformed' on Australian shores, with re-packing costs exceeding 50 per cent of the total product cost, it could be labelled Australian Made.
Growcom policy advisor Troy Reeves said there was a "sleight of hand situation" in food labelling in Australia, where manufacturing companies calling repacked overseas foods Australian made - a term he says consumers often assume means the food was produced in Australia.
"Australia has the highest national minimum wage, so the processors and manufacturers don't need to do much to incur 50 per cent of their product costs by simply re-canning or packaging foods, and then they can label the product Australian Made.
"One of the problems we face is that some people take our concerns to be that we're xenophobic, which we're not.
"But we do think that labelling a product that has been grown and largely produced overseas Australian is misleading.
"We're not against foreign imports, but we do think Australian consumers should know the truth and be able to make the decision themselves."
In addition to the current Select Committee inquiry, last year an independent review by former Health Minister Neal Blewett of the nation's food labelling laws was completed, recommending many changes to the current system.
While the Blewett Report recommended a new framework for food labelling be created for country or origin claims, the government responded saying it did not support the recommendation.
The government's response said the Australian Made or Made in Australia claims gave recognition to the nation's manufacturing sector.
But the response did say that it would recommend the nation's consumer protection agency to review the Country of Origin labelling materials, and develop an education program to clarify the terms "if appropriate".
An update on government action since the Blewett Review was requested yesterday from the lead agency, the Department of Health and Ageing, but no response was received by deadline.
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