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21 August 2009 - HSI launches national consumer survey on food labelling      

HSI launches national consumer survey on food labelling

Sydney, 21 August 2009                  

Humane Society International (HSI) has today launched a national online consumer survey to gauge the understanding of the Australian public to the suite of labelling terms used on animal products.

The survey is available at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=eijPMfd4Y1CGM1ZHx8b7_2bg_3d_3d

Consumers are currently bombarded with a range of terms that includes caged, grain fed, free-range, open range, bred free-range, organic and bio-dynamic.

Devoid of any legal definitions or standards, the use of these terms by producers and retailers is fair game.

The number of vague and undefined labelling terms in use on animal products is both confusing for consumers, and enables intensive producers to cash in on booming market share for free-range produce by defining the terms to suit themselves,” said Verna Simpson, HSI Director. “Producers and retailers can make any claim about production without fear of prosecution, even if they have charged a premium, and consumers are none the wiser.”

Currently, terms such as free-range are used to refer to vastly different husbandry practices.

Two major pork producers were reported to the ACCC for labelling their produce “free-range” when it is in fact “bred free-range”, a production system that sees pigs born outdoors and then moved into intensive farming conditions for the rest of their lives. This is very different from the public’s perception of “free-range”. Yet the ACCC decided that this mislabelling did not constitute deceptive conduct as there are no fixed standards for “free-range” produce.

“Without consistent and enforceable definitions, food labelling is meaningless,” said Ms Simpson. “Consumers have the right to make informed decisions based on ethical concerns, and they most certainly have the right to know that the extra cost they are paying for humanely produced food is justified. These rights should not be granted at the whim of the producers.”

HSI has long called for a reform of all federal, state and territory legislation and regulations applying to food labelling, branding and marketing, that must ensure the terms used on product labels are limited and clearly defined, and that these terms are linked to consistent national standards, including those for animal welfare.

Later this year, the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council will be meeting to undertake the most comprehensive review of food labelling law and policy in recent times.

HSI hopes to feed the results of the consumer survey into the Ministerial Council deliberations to bring about tighter controls on animal-welfare labelling, and ultimately have them direct Food Standards Australia New Zealand to develop a nationally consistent labelling scheme that permits the use of only a limited number of legally defined terms on animal products.

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