In November 2016 the Seafood Origin Information Working Group (SOIWG) was established in response to the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016 debate to investigate if the government would support Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) for seafood sold in the foodservice sector. Now, nearly 12 months since the last SOIWG meeting (November 22, 2017) there is still no report.
Despite numerous letters from Seafood Industry Australia (SIA), the national peak body representing the Australian seafood industry, to Coalition Ministers and Assistant Ministers who have been responsible for this portfolio over the last year, there has been no response to requests on a timeline for the report's release.
Today (October 25, 2018), Senator Rex Patrick has called on the Senate Estimates Committee to release the report.
"SIA has been working hard to see mandatory CoOL for seafood sold in the foodservice sector legislated and we cannot effectively prosecute the case further while these findings are not publicly available," SIA CEO Jane Lovell said.
"During the Country of Origin debate in 2016 there was strong support for a consumer's right to know where their food comes from, and from July 1 this year this right was strengthened as the government tightened regulations on origin labelling for food sales in retail. What SIA can't understand is why a consumer's right to know disappears when they dine out?"
"It is unacceptable that the Government seem to be putting this in the too hard 'fishermen's basket'," Senator Patrick said.
"There is an anomaly in that consumers can find out where their fish come from at a supermarket but not from a restaurant 30-metres down the road. Consumers have a right to know where their seafood comes from."
"We know demand for Aussie grown produce is on the rise. This was supported by the "Food demand in Australia" report released by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics (August 22, 2018) and acknowledged by the government," Ms Lovell said.
"Aussies are supporting our farmers and choosing to buy Australian produce. Consumers want clear food labelling and to be informed, and food producers should be listening to that message. The Coalition Government's Country of Origin Labelling will go a long way to helping inform consumers," Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said following the report's release.
"We know CoOL in foodservice is something consumers want and we know Aussies love and want to eat Australian seafood. Next to freshness, country of origin is the second most influential factor for a consumer choosing which seafood they buy," Ms Lovell said.
"More than 86,000 Aussies signed petitions asking for mandatory CoOL and two Senate inquiries have called for it; yet nothing has happened. With 70 per cent of seafood eaten in Australia imported, it is reasonable that the consumer is given information to be able to make an informed purchasing decisions. There is a great opportunity here to acknowledge and promote origin on the menu in foodservice.The Northern Territory successfully introduced CoOL for seafood in the foodservice industry in 2008. We want the rest of the country to follow suit.
"The commercial fishing industry relies on the community for access to water to be able to fish. If we are invisible, then it is difficult for the community to support Australian fishers who work hard and under very strict regulatory conditions to put Aussie seafood on their tables."