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Labeling Food Products and Goods – Understand Your Obligations!

In Australia, the law sets out specific regulations governing the labelling, packaging and advertising of goods and food in general.  For example under the Trade Measurement Act 1989 (NSW), you can only sell meat at a price determined by reference to its mass. Similarly if you wish to sell firewood you must sell it at a price in accordance with its volume.

You may have also recently heard about the hefty fines imposed by the NSW Food Authority for false labelling and the inclusion of particular businesses on the ‘Name and Shame’ register. The NSW Food Authority, responsible for food safety across the entire food industry, has made it quite clear that the mislabelling of food will not be tolerated in NSW. For example, some businesses in NSW have ceased trading because of their failure to disclose certain food allergens on food labels as required by the Australian Food Standards Code (i.e. peanuts, egg products, milk products etc.).

In essence, these regulations are all used for the purpose of allowing consumers to safely choose products. At the same time, these regulations are also used to prevent misleading or deceptive conduct that may fall within the ambit of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) or the Fair Trading Act 1990 (NSW). Whether you are an international investor or a local business, you must comply with the labelling regulations in NSW.

In relation to all food labels, you must exhibit the following information:

  • Name and Description of Food;
  • Ingredients List;
  • Nutrition information panel;
  • Identification of the ‘lot’ number;
  • Warning and Advisory Statements;
  • Name and Australian Street address of the Supplier of Food;
  • Date Mark – ‘Use By’ or ‘Best Before’; and
  • Country of origin

A supplier must be very careful in addressing the above information. For example, labelling a food product as a ‘low fat’ item must mean that there are ‘3 grams of fat or less’ per 100g of the food content. Another example would be where the supplier may choose to use a ‘Use By’ date mark label instead of a ‘Best Before’ date mark label. Essentially, this would mean that it would be illegal for the supplier to sell the product after the ‘Use By’ date.

In relation to Country of Origin, many importers and suppliers fail to correctly describe the country in which the food product was produced or manufactured in. For example, using the terms ‘product of’, ‘produced in’ and ‘produce of’ implies that all the significant ingredients used in the food originated in Australia and that the food is also manufactured in Australia. Yet if the label states that the food product was ‘made in’ or ‘manufactured in’ Australia, this would imply that the food was significantly processed in Australia with at least 50% of the cost of production incurred in Australia.

Not only do labelling requirements apply to food products but they also apply to goods as well. Depending on the types of goods, different regulations will apply. Dangerous goods such as chemicals and toxic substances should be labelled with the specific ‘safety phrases’ in accordance with the National Code of Practice for the Labelling of Workplace Substances. Another example would be leather, vulcanite and plastic products and their imitations imported into Australia, and their compliance with the labelling requirements under The Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act 1905. Wallets, bridles, brief cases and men’s belts are some examples that fall under this category and  must have a principal label or brand affixed in a prominent position and the trade description must be in the English language in prominent and legible characters.

Berrigan Doube Lawyers generally advises international sole traders and foreign companies of their obligations in marketing products to the Australian market. As one can realise, if an entity wishes to carry on business in Australia and intends to sell food products or goods, it bears the onerous task of accounting for the specific labelling requirements. That is why at Berrigan Doube Lawyers we offer quality advice which ensures that your entity meets those requirements.

Should you have any questions in relation to this article, please feel free to contact us.