Ian Macfarlane – from there we will legislate. This matter is urgent. Pie charts required to show how much of product is Australian made.
— Latika Bourke (@latikambourke) February 25, 2015
The Coalition government looks set to further abandon their deregulation agenda, with the prime minister this week calling for the introduction of new country of origin food labelling laws.
Responding to an unfortunate outbreak of Hepatitis A—thought to be caused by the importation of infected frozen berries—Tony Abbott instructed Ministers Ian Macfarlane and Barnaby Joyce to prepare a proposal for cabinet by the end of March.
Precise details are yet to emerge, but initial statements from Macfarlane indicate that companies will be require to label food with a pie chart showing the percentage of ingredients that originate in Australia.
This will be a significant regulatory burden for many Australian businesses. Accurate compliance will require much more than a mere redesign of a company’s product labels, it will require comprehensive audits of a company’s supply chain in order to accurately assess the origin of all product ingredients.
Despite these regulatory costs, the government’s proposal was enthusiastically welcomes by some agricultural industry groups. One such group was AUSVEG.
Speaking in response to the proposal, AUSVEG Deputy CEO, Andrew White stated that an “improved labelling system would have the additional benefit of enabling Australian growers to compete on a level playing field against the tide of cheap, inferior, and potentially dangerous imports.”
What this shows is that, despite having the appearance of a public health measure, this regulatory burden is nothing more than a protectionist policy that will serve the interests of rent seekers.
If Australian produce were significantly safer or of superior quality, then there would be no need to impose labelling laws across the entire industry. There would be natural market incentives for companies to advertise their produce as Australian and the benefits would more than outweigh the costs. The imposition of mandatory labelling means that the entire industry will bear the costs of compliance, whilst only certain producers will benefit.
FreedomWatch has previously reported on similar product labelling proposals—such as the plain packaging legislation that is now law in Australia. There is a notable difference in scale between plain these two proposals, but both have their origins in a nanny state mentality that assumes regulation is required to ensure people make the ‘right’ individual choices. Australians don’t need this government intervention.