Seafood Industry Welcomes Federal Budget Funding for Expanded Country of Origin Labeling

Australian seafood producers say plans to expand country-of-origin labeling to include domestic restaurants and food outlets will be “deeply positive” for the industry.

Country of origin laws were introduced in 2018 that required information about where a product was caught or farmed to be included on the labeling of food sold at retail in Australia, including supermarkets.

But the restaurant trade has been exempted from the rules, meaning restaurants have not been required to include where the fish is caught on their menus and special boards.

The Albanian’s first budget, released on Tuesday evening, allocated $1.6 million over two years to introduce mandatory labeling of seafood products.

Tuesday’s budget provided $1.6 million over two years to implement mandatory country-of-origin labeling in the restaurant sector.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

“Deeply Positive”

It’s a move welcomed by the Barramundi Group, which operates international fish farms in Singapore and Brunei, as well as Cone Bay off the Kimberley coast in WA.

The company is planning a major expansion of its Kimberley operations due to growing demand for locally produced barramundi.

The chief executive of his Australian company, Alastair Smart, said the decision to extend country-of-origin labeling was “deeply positive” as it would ensure producers were rewarded for the higher costs and standards required to raise fish in Australia.

The turquoise waters have rings, barramundi farms, a low hill in the distance and blue skies.  A trawler is next to a ring.
The Barramundi Group welcomed the inclusion of the restaurant trade in country of origin labeling laws.(Supplied: Marine Produce Australia)

“It is understood that we have grown this product and manufactured it under fairly strict regulations which ensure a level of safety appreciated by Australian consumers,” Mr Smart said.

“We know that the products that are coming in don’t have the same checks and balances… They’re often produced in developing countries, which is why they’re cheaper.

“Consumers have the right to know where their seafood comes from so they can make informed decisions.”

According to the industry, approximately 70% of seafood consumed in Australia is imported from overseas.

A serious man in a blue shirt in a marina, beautiful sunny day.
Darryl Hockey says whitefish is vulnerable to product confusion.(ABC Landline: Chris Lewis)

Customers “cheated” by cheap imports

The WA Fishing Industry Council has long lobbied for the exemption given to the catering trade since 2018 to be removed.

Its managing director, Darryl Hockey, said seafood labeling in the hospitality industry was confusing and people often mistakenly bought imported products thinking they were Australian.

“Unfortunately there is a temptation when there is a good price on the plate for people to put something else on it to deceive the customer,” he said.

Mr Hockey said whitefish was vulnerable to product confusion and products were sold with names that consumers associate with Australia, including whiting or emperor.

“We think it’s King George or yellowtail. Very often it’s blue whiting that’s imported from New Zealand, which is a completely different product,” he said.

“They bring in quite a few assorted snapper species, which come from the tropics, quite often caught unsustainably, and are replaced and called local snappers.

“Unfortunately, it is rampant.”

A blackboard in front of a takeaway store advertises
Under the changes, take-out outlets will have to indicate where their seafood comes from.(ABC Far North: Charlie McKillop)

Transparency an “advantage”

Mr Hockey said extending country-of-origin labeling to the restaurant sector would allow consumers to make an informed choice.

“If they choose to have cheap imported products, that’s fine. We just want them to know what they’re buying at the time,” he said.

Seafood Industry Australia chief executive Veronica Papacosta said she hoped to have an agreement on mandatory seafood labeling in place within six to 12 months.

“The restaurant industry will need time to implement [the changes],” she says.

“We need to support this industry in a way that works for it because, at the end of the day, it’s really our contention that the restaurant industry will benefit from transparency.

“We are ready to be patient in terms of implementation, but I think six to 12 months to reach an agreement on how this is going is reasonable.

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