The saying goes, 'you are what you eat'. If that's the case, then consumers surely have a right to know what they are eating. That's why it's vital that we are able to trust the labelling on food products to tell us the ingredients, where the product was made and whether or not the product is fresh.
But, believe it or not, Australia's current food regulations don't require this truth in labelling.
Palm Oil is an edible plant oil, high in saturated fats, that is derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree which is used in agricultural production of palm oil. Palm oil and its derivatives are present in 50% of all packaged foods on our shelves
Palm oil only grows in the tropics, where, if cultivated in an unsustainable way can have negative impacts on people and the environment. Palm oil plantations are now the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. In Southeast Asia alone the equivalent of 300 football fields are deforested every hour.
This has an extremely negative affect on the Orang-utan habitat.
This is because under current food labelling laws, Palm Oil can be legally labelled as 'Vegetable Oil'.
Along with Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Bob Brown and Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Senator Barnaby Joyce, I introduced the Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling Laws – Palm Oil) Bill to the Senate.
The Bill requires manufacturers to accurately label Palm Oil among its ingredients. It also provides for manufacturers to label use of Palm Oil as Certified Sustainable, so that consumers can be advised that although the product includes Palm Oil, it has been produced in a sustainable way and in line with the international Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
This Bill recently passed the Senate, and will now move the the House of Representatives to be voted on.
Country of Origin
Under the current rules, only 50 percent of the cost of a product has to originate in Australia for it to be called 'Made in Australia'. The cost of the packaging is included in that 50 percent.
Basically, this means that consumers aren't able to know where the food they buy and eat is coming from.
Currently, the Competition and Consumer Act states that goods can be represented as 'Made in Australia' if, the goods have been substantially transformed here. However, under these regulations, in the instance of a meat pie for example, the packaging can read 'Made in Australia' when in fact none of the meat within the meat pie comes from Australia.
In other words, if the packaging, the pastry and the gravy of the meat pie has been made and combined in Australia, but the meat and the ingredients for the gravy was imported, the meat pie can still be labelled 'Made in Australia'.
For example, the government recently considered relaxing beef import laws, which would have meant that meat from BSE-affected countries could be used in our food products, be labelled as “Made in Australia”, and the consumer wouldn’t be any the wiser. Thankfully, this decision was stalled pending a two year inquiry.
Consumers see the word 'Australia' and make the obvious assumption that it is made here, from Australian goods, however current laws mean this is not always the case.
Labelling something as 'Made in Australia' because the packaging was done here and cost more than 50 percent of the manufacturing cost, but the contents of the food came from China or South America, doesn’t make it Australian.
Genetically Modified Content
The issue of genetically modified food is one that justifiably creates concern in the community and at very least, consumers want to know if GM food is in the products they purchase. A 2009 Newspoll survey found that 90 percent of Australian consumers want all food derived from GM crops to be labelled.
On the surface, our laws seem set up to protect consumers and there is a requirement for all food that contains GM materials to be labelled. However, this is only if the amount of GM material in the product is greater than one percent. One percent may not sound like a lot, but given the lack of long-term studies on health effects of eating GM foods, consumers surely deserve to know if there is any GM material in the food they eat.
Under this Bill, all foods containing GM content must be labelled as having GM, regardless of percentage.