MARK COLVIN: There’s been a broad welcome for the Government’s announcement.

Lobby groups representing consumers, farmers and packaged food manufacturers all support the moves.

The only concerns seem to be whether the changes will go far enough.

Meredith Griffiths reports.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: It’s rare for government announcements to be welcomed from all sectors, but consensus seems to be the order of the day.

The Government’s proposed changes to food labels have been applauded by the consumer group Choice.

Spokesman Tom Godfrey says consumers need better protection.

TOM GODFREY: We’ve seen what happens when you get it wrong. Essentially you create widespread confusion across the country and people can’t work out the origin of their foods. For example: “packed in Belgium using imported fruit” – it doesn’t tell you anything about the origin of the product.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The Food and Grocery Council agrees there is a need to improve the clarity of the information to consumers about their food.

Gary Dawson is the chief executive of the council which represents packaged food, drink and grocery products manufacturers.

GARY DAWSON: And the question now is, really, what’s the best way to do that without adding unnecessarily cost and complexity. So we’ll certainly be engaging with the Government looking at the option that’s been put forward today, looking at whether there are other options to achieve a better outcome or the same outcome at a lower cost.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: But he’s questioned whether the proposed changes go far enough.

GARY DAWSON: It doesn’t appear to apply at all to imports, and so nothing in what’s been proposed today would have changed anything on the label of imported frozen berries for example.

So we’d want to get a little more clarity on how this would apply, if at all, to imports, particularly from competitor companies like New Zealand where a lot of food processing has shifted because of the lower cost structure.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Is that because imports would presumably already say Made in New Zealand or Made in China or Made in Chile – is that why that would be?

GARY DAWSON: Well, they should say that, but of course they generally don’t say what the origin of the ingredients are and that’s where the debate is now in Australia. So, for example, a product that says Made in New Zealand tells you nothing about where the elements within that product have been sourced.

You know the Prime Minister is going to New Zealand this weekend. I’m assuming it will be a topic for discussion. It would be great if can come back with a commitment from the New Zealand government to adopt the same rules that are adopted in Australia.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Are you worried that people won’t buy certain products if they see that actually a lot of the ingredients were sourced overseas?

GARY DAWSON: Well the research says that it’s actually pretty low on the list for consumers in terms of their purchase decision. Price is high on the list, brand and quality and so forth are high on the list, whereas origin tends not to be.

So again that’s why, you know, it would be useful to do some market research to test some of the propositions, just to give some confidence that if this does impose costs that there will actually be some benefit at the end of it.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: New labels can’t come soon enough for Andrew White from the farmers lobby group AusVeg.

ANDREW WHITE: Packaging can be changed readily and easily and quickly, at little cost to the consumer. We believe that the cost is negligible. We have movie ticket giveaways displayed on packages where we’re seeing packages changed on a regular basis. There is no excuse not to change country of origin labelling. We believe that it needs to be changed to give farmers a fair go, and to make a level playing field for Australian producers so that they can get recognition in the supermarket aisles.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: AusVeg says Australian producers are at a disadvantage when competing against foreign farmers that may have lower overheads or less stringent quality assurance standards.

As to when all this may happen?

The ministers will make a submission to Cabinet before the end of March and then the Government will look at introducing any necessary legislation.

MARK COLVIN: Meredith Griffiths.

Extracted in full from ABC.