Consumers may be influenced by a number of factors when buying goods, including claims about where a product was grown, produced or made. If you choose to make a country of origin claim, or are legally required to do so, it must be clear, accurate and truthful.
Under the ACL, certain food products offered or suitable for retail sale will be required to display country of origin information.
The ACL doesn’t require non-food products to carry country of origin labelling, although other laws may do so.
All businesses, whether they are legally required or choose to display country of origin labelling, are prohibited from making false or misleading representations or engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct about the origin of goods (both food and non-food). Country of origin claims can be made using words and/or pictures and may be:
- expressed by a statement such as ‘Made in Australia’, ‘Product of Thailand’, ‘Grown in New Zealand’
- implied by words or images e.g. product packaging with a map of Italy superimposed on the Italian flag could be interpreted as implying that the product is of Italian origin.
If a reasonable conclusion from the use of particular words or images is that a good was grown, made or produced in a particular country when that is in fact not the case, there is a risk of breaching the ACL. It’s your responsibility to ensure you have a reasonable basis for any and all claims you make about goods. It’s not a defence, or an excuse, to say that you ‘didn’t know’ your country of origin claim was misleading.
It’s up to individual businesses to work out what type of origin claim they can make about their products. To provide certainty to businesses, the ACL sets out four situations where you can safely make a country of origin claim without it raising concerns under the law. These are referred to as ‘safe harbour defences’.
The safe harbours cover claims that goods:
- were grown in a particular country
- are the produce of a particular country
- were made or manufactured in, or otherwise originated in, a particular country
- carry a mark specified in an information standard relating to country of origin.
If a business satisfies the criteria for a safe harbour defence they will have an automatic defence against an allegation that they have breached the relevant section of the ACL insofar as the claim concerns a country of origin.
Failure to satisfy the requirements of a safe harbour doesn’t mean that a business is unable to make that particular country of origin claim. A business may still make the claim provided they are confident an ordinary and reasonable consumer wouldn’t consider it to be false, misleading or deceptive.
If you sell or supply food for retail sale in stores, markets, online or from vending machines it is likely that you will be required to comply with the Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016 (Standard).
The Standard commenced under the ACL on 1 July 2016 and regulates the country of origin information that must be provided for most food offered or suitable for retail sale in Australia. It’s important that producers, manufacturers, processors, and importers, as well as retailers, are aware of the obligations imposed by the Standard.
The existing requirements for country of origin labelling set out in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code will remain in place until 30 June 2018. During this transition period, businesses must either:
- continue to comply with the labelling requirements of the Food Standards Code, or
- adopt the new labelling requirements of the Standard.
From 1 July 2018, businesses must label their products according to the requirements of the Standard.
Businesses that wish to adopt the style and graphics of the new food labels for non-food products should be aware that the use of the ‘Australian grown, Australian made’ kangaroo logo on such goods is overseen by Australian Made Campaign Limited (AMCL).
To use the logo on non-food products, businesses must be registered with AMCL and meet the criteria in the AMCL Code of Practice around the use of the logo. Fees and conditions apply. For more information, including on the process for obtaining a licence to use the logo, visit the AMCL website.
As a generic graphic, businesses do not require a licence or approval to use the rectangle bar chart on their non-food goods (e.g. to indicate the proportion by weight of ingredients that originated in a particular country). For example, a business that makes slippers using Australian sheepskin (which makes up to 80 per cent of the product’s materials) could use a bar chart shaded to the 80 per cent mark to show that the goods were made using at least 80 per cent Australian materials.
If a business wishes to use the bar chart to signify something other than the level of Australian content in a non-food product (e.g. the level of Australian ownership of the business), they must ensure that the meaning of the chart is made clear on the packaging.
A business may breach the ACL if a reasonable conclusion from the use of the chart is that the good contains a particular percentage of content from a specified country, when this is not the case.
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