THE major parties have lashed the Greens for rushing in a bill to change country of origin food-labelling rules, without consulting them or properly analysing the impact on the food processing sector.
The Greens yesterday introduced legislation to Parliament that would define country of origin labelling to better reflect where raw produce originated.
At present, if more than half of the packaging costs are incurred in Australia and goods have been substantially processed here, regardless of where the basic produce is from, the item can be labelled ”made in”.
The bill is based on a 2011 review of Australia and New Zealand’s food-labelling standards.
The Greens say it will help people who want to buy Australian products, and local farmers. AUSVEG, which represents 9000 vegetable and potato growers, and consumer group Choice have welcomed the bill. Choice, however, warned the Greens Australians still wanted to know where products were made.
The federal government says it is already working with state governments to respond to the review’s recommendations.
A spokeswoman for Industry and Innovation Minister Greg Combet said the Greens ignored that the Commonwealth could not unilaterally change food-labelling laws and codes.
”The Greens have rushed in with private member’s legislation that involved little analysis of the impact on the food processing sector,” she said. ”Country of origin labelling rules need to give consumers accurate and useful information without imposing unnecessary costs on the food-processing sector, which could ultimately hurt food producers and consumers.”
Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce, who co-sponsored a similar bill with the Greens and Senator Nick Xenophon in 2009, said while the Greens’ idea had merit, the party was going about it the wrong way.
Senator Joyce said the Coalition was working towards a position and warned such tactics by the Greens could set the issue back by making it a partisan matter.
”This is typical Greens, they never negotiate with anybody, they just rush in,” Senator Joyce said. ”Any fool can bring in a bill, but it actually takes authenticity to do the work to gather the numbers so you can achieve an outcome. To the best of my knowledge they have not contacted anybody.”
Greens leader Senator Christine Milne said given the issue had been on the agenda for several years, and that the government had still not responded to the review presented in January 2011, ”it is hard to see how anyone is rushing into anything”.
“This bill builds on years of public work, has been developed in consultation with a range of stakeholders and, as is standard practice, we hope to see it referred to a Senate inquiry. I look forward to Labor and the Nationals engaging in good-faith discussions about how it might be improved,” she said.
Coles merchandise director John Durkan said the company would be happy to see more stringent labels to help shoppers make informed choices.
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