Source: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
Simplot Australia Pty Ltd (Simplot) has amended the country of origin labelling on 31 frozen fish products, from ‘Made in Australia’ to ‘Packed in Australia’, following concerns raised by the ACCC.
The frozen fish products were sold under the brand names Birds Eye, I&J, Neptune and one home brand product.
Following compliance checks across a range of frozen foods, the ACCC was concerned that the products displayed a ‘Made in Australia’ mark when the imported frozen fish may not have been substantially transformed in Australia.
Under the Australian Consumer Law’s Country of Origin labelling provisions, if a food product, such as fish, is packed in Australia without being substantially transformed, it cannot display a ‘Made in Australia’ mark.
The products sold by Simplot’s brands used fish imported from a number of countries including New Zealand, United States and South Africa. The ACCC’s view is that only minor manufacturing processes occur in Australia and, when viewed collectively, the imported ingredients do not differ fundamentally from the manufactured goods.
Simplot was of the view that slicing, crumbing and par-frying of the frozen fish constituted substantial transformation, justifying the use of the ‘Made in Australia’ mark. However, after the ACCC raised its concerns, Simplot agreed to change its country of origin labelling on these frozen fish products.
“Processes that only change the form or appearance of imported ingredients or components no longer qualify as substantial transformation,” ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said.
“Country of origin labels are designed to inform consumers, some of whom may be willing to pay a premium for products they think are made in a particular country, especially Australia.”
“Not only can incorrect labelling wrongly influence consumers into purchasing a certain product, it can also give a competitive advantage to those who use the ‘Made in Australia’ label in breach of the Australian Consumer Law,” Mr Keogh said.
“We are pleased that Simplot co-operated with the ACCC investigation and agreed to make changes to its labelling, and on this basis we decided to resolve this matter administratively without taking enforcement action.”
All Simplot frozen fish products manufactured after 31 October 2020 will have the ‘Packed in Australia’ mark but products with the ‘Made in Australia’ mark may still be available in store until sold out.
Simplot is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the United States-based company J.R. Simplot and manufactures the following brands of frozen fish brands: Birds Eye, I&J, Neptune, Captain’s Catch and Ocean Royale.
The Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016 requires most food suitable for retail sale in Australia to carry country of origin information. Under the Standard, fish is a priority food product.
If a priority food product is packed in Australia without being substantially transformed, it cannot claim to be of ‘Australian origin’.
In February 2017, the Government passed the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Act 2017 amending the definition of ‘substantial transformation’.
Under the definition goods are substantially transformed in a country if:
- they were ‘grown’ or ‘produced’ in that country, or
- as a result of one or more processes undertaken in that country, the goods are fundamentally different in identity, nature or essential character from all of their imported ingredients or components.
The ACCC has published guidance for businesses making country of origin claims under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).