Sorting through the myriad ‘made in Australia’ claims can be complex and confusing. Dietitian Liz Munn untangles the definitions.
When we asked HFG readers about the things you’re prepared to pay more for, nearly two-thirds of you said Australian products. The only thing you’re keener on buying is healthier products. But when it comes to choosing to buy Australian, it’s not nearly as simple as it appears. Our labelling laws arguably leave plenty of wriggle-room for companies, and even when you read the fine print you can be left not knowing everything you’d like.
There’s also the significant problem of priorities – while you may know all the information there is to know about a product’s origin, even the smartest economists can disagree about the best option to choose. For example, is it better to a buy a product from an all-Australian company that provides jobs and factories here, but uses a significant amount of imported ingredients? Or should you go for a foreign-owned company that manufactures here from all-Australian ingredients, even if the profits go offshore?
It’s a complex system and the answers are often unclear. But by familiarising yourself with the basic guidelines governing ‘Country of Origin’ labelling, you’ll be better equipped to make an informed choice.
Which foods need to disclose country-of-origin?
All packaged foods have to put a country of origin statement on the label, according to regulations set out by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
However, not all fresh foods need to label country of origin. Sharp-eyed consumers will know that only some fresh, unpackaged foods tell you where they come from – unpackaged fruit and vegetables, pork and fish need to tell all, but not so unpackaged beef, lamb and chicken – although FSANZ is currently considering including these. At your greengrocers, there should be a sign on each produce display with the country of origin, but they can be tricky to spot.
Even if you’re keen to find the small print on the label that says ‘Made in’ or ‘Product of’, you may not feel you’re much the wiser once you’ve spotted it. A recent survey by Choice found that many people were confused about what the various statements mean – only one per cent could accurately explain ‘made in Australia’ and more than half got the meaning of ‘product of Australia’ wrong.
What the claims mean
The Food Standards Code requires all packaged foods to carry one of the country-of-origin statements listed below. In addition, some products may also be affiliated with the voluntary schemes outlined (see ‘Additional logos you may see’ below), and so carry an extra logo. When deciding which claim to use, manufacturers need to comply with trade practices laws, which are the responsibility of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The ACCC helps manufacturers understand how to make a claim which is true and not misleading under the Australian Consumer Law.
Product of Australia
This is the top-level claim (it may also be written as ‘produce of Australia’ or ‘produced in Australia’). All the ‘significant’ ingredients must be produced in Australia, and all or virtually all of the manufacturing must have happened here as well.
Exactly what’s considered ‘significant’ is tricky, but the ACCC gives some guidance: basically all the ingredients that give the product its essential nature should be Australian. For example, an apple and cranberry juice could not carry a ‘Product of Australia’ claim if both juices were not Australian, even if only two per cent of the entire product is imported cranberry juice.
Grown in Australia
‘Grown in’ is a new claim only defined in the recent changes to consumer law. Its meaning is similar to ‘product of Australia’. All the ‘significant’ ingredients must be grown in Australia, and all or virtually all of the manufacturing must have happened here, too.
Manufacturers can only make a claim that ingredients are ‘grown in Australia’ on the packaging if the whole product is comprised of at least 50 per cent of this ingredient. For example, according to the ACCC, the peas in minted peas could be labelled as ‘peas grown in Australia’ even if the mint was Chinese, as long as the product is more than 50 per cent peas. However, you probably couldn’t call the whole package ‘product of Australia’ because of the small amount of Chinese mint.
Made in Australia
This is a general type of country-of-origin claim. To be ‘made in Australia’, the ingredients can come from anywhere, as long as 50 per cent of the production costs were incurred in Australia. The ingredients also need to be ‘substantially transformed’ during the manufacturing process.
The ACCC says ‘substantially transformed’ means changed in a fundamental way important to the nature of the product. An example would be when imported ingredients are cooked into a cake in Australia. However, imported fruit juice concentrate that is diluted back into juice in Australia isn’t considered substantial transformation.
Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients
You might think a ‘made in’ claim that also tells you about the source of the ingredients is a good thing – and it does give you some more information. For example, you can generally assume that whichever is mentioned first – local or imported ingredients – is the larger amount.
However, you still don’t know how much of each, nor necessarily which countries the imported ingredients come from. Plus, this type of claim no longer has to meet the ‘transformation’ and 50 per cent of production costs tests above, so it can be a weaker claim in some cases.
Additional logos you may see
The country-of-origin statements above aren’t the only claims you’ll find on some labels. There are also various groups that promote Australian-owned or -made products. There are annual membership or licensing fees depending on the program, as well as a code of practice and other criteria to ensure companies qualify.
The AUSBUY logo has a focus on Australian ownership of companies and is run by the Australian Companies Institute. It tells you at least 51 per cent of the company is Australian owned and operated. Under FSANZ regulations, products with the AUSBUY logo also carry the usual country-of-origin label – so you can still see if a product carrying an AUSBUY logo is ‘made in Australia’, for example.
Australian-made, Australian-grown (AMAG)
This scheme takes a different approach, focusing on products made and grown in Australia. It was originally set up by the Australian Government as a trademark to promote Australian produce, and is now run by the Australian and State Chambers of Commerce. There are variations on the logo – the bottom of the triangle tells you if it’s a ‘product of’, ‘made in’ or ‘grown in’ claim, and the requirements follow the same rules as those listed above for these claims.
Eat in season
Eating produce that is in season means you’ll have a higher chance of finding Aussie produce. Always be sure to check the country-of-origin labelling on the fruit and veg displays.
Our dietitian’s picks
Birds Eye baby peas In a sea of imported frozen veg – much of it from New Zealand – Birds Eye’s single frozen veg range carrying its ‘Australian’ logo on the front of the pack stands out as being a ‘product of Australia’. The range includes varieties such as peas, baby beans, carrot rings and broccoli.
San Remo pasta You may think of Italy when it comes to pasta, but if you’re trying to buy Australian, the Australian-owned San Remo pasta is a good place to start. Based in Adelaide and using Australian durum wheat, you’ll find a ‘product of Australia’ claim on its shelf-stable dried pasta packs.
Jalna yoghurt Jalna yoghurts carry the AusBuy logo as well as a ‘made in Australia’ claim. The company makes its products in its Victorian factory, mainly using milk from either its own farm, or a family-owned farm nearby.
Fresh grapes From June to October – when fresh grapes are out of season – they are commonly imported, often from the US. Don’t get caught out by not reading the label – check for ‘product of Australia’ somewhere on the display of all fruit and veg.
Ardmona tomatoes Plain, whole or chopped, Ardmona tomatoes carry the familiar AMAG logo, and while plenty of canned tomatoes are imported from Italy, these are ‘made in Australia’ using Australian-grown, vine-ripened tomatoes.
Peanut butter This all-Aussie peanut butter by Dick Smith is made in Australia using all-Australian peanuts by an Australian-owned company. The jar proudly carries an ‘Australian made and owned’ claim.