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Statements on Fish Investigation

Statements from ACCC, NSW Food Authority, and Seafood Industry Australia, and Food Standards ANZ

ACCC

(17.09.19)

Food labelling is an issue for Food Standards Australia NZ (they have this page on their website about it: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/publications/pages/pilotsurveyontheidentityoffish/fishmislabellingsurv2430.aspx

The ACCC is an economy-wide regulator and enforcement agency, not a complaint handling body.

Consumers can contact the ACCC for information about their consumer rights and obligations and possible courses of action. 

We rarely becoming involved in individual consumer or small business disputes but will use the information received to help us focus our broader compliance and enforcement efforts.

Our 2019 compliance and enforcement priorities were announced in February 2019.

This page outlines priority factors for the work we do outside of those compliance and enforcement priorities.

Our website contains advice about where consumers can go for help: https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-protection/where-to-go-for-consumer-help

Specifically on fish labelling: I also refer you to the Senate’s inquiry into the labelling of seafood and seafood products which outlines the requirements:

https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Rural_and_Regional_Affairs_and_Transport/Seafood_labelling/Report

(29.10.19)

On background:

The ACCC does not regulate fish names or their labelling, but has joint responsibility with authorities in states and territories for issues under consumer law.

An industry standard (devised by the Australian Fish Names Committee which includes representatives of industry and business under the umbrella of the Department of Industry) governs a naming convention for fish. 

For previous action by the ACCC, see:   https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/seafood-producer-re-names-product-after-accc-concerns     https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/austar-port-lincoln-fixes-misleading-claims-about-origin-of-its-seafood    https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/kailis-bros-pays-10800-penalty-for-alleged-misleading-prawn-meat-labelling

For attribution to a spokesperson for the ACCC:

  •         The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) covers the labelling and marketing of all products, including fish. Misleading and deceptive conduct, including via labelling of products is prohibited under the ACL.
  •         The ACL is enforced by the ACCC as well as state consumer affairs and fair trading departments. Local issues are generally dealt with by agencies in the states and territories.
  •         The ACCC has taken previous action for the mislabelling of seafood products, particularly in relation to ‘origin’ claims.

NSW FOOD AUTHORITY

  1. Has NSW Food Authority fined anyone in relation to seafood substitution and/or misleading conduct?

The NSW Food Authority publishes the Name and Shame register (updated every Tuesday) that publicly lists individuals and corporations in breach of NSW food safety laws. Penalty notices are listed for a period of 12 months from publication and prosecutions are listed for 2 years from the time of publication.

A search reveals there are no listings for seafood substitution. Any historic information would need to be applied for under GIPA.  

 

  1. Has NSW Food Authority ever undertaken an investigation in relation to seafood substitution and/or misleading conduct?

The NSW Food Authority routinely undertakes investigations and targeted projects, these may be proactive initiatives based upon interaction and consultation with industry, our own intelligence gathered as a result of routine audits and inspections or come about in response to complaints made to the Authority.

Projects and investigations are prioritised according to protection of public health, risk and need.

The Authority has previously conducted targeted enforcement activity into seafood substitution (2006/07) which at the time resulted in a reduction in these offences.

We would encourage anyone who has a food complaint relating to NSW product, including seafood substitution, to report it to us for investigation.

 

  1. Has NSW Food Authority ever received a complaint and/or tip off in relation to seafood substitution or mislabeling of products?

In 2017/18 the Food Authority’s customer helpline received 19,235 requests for advice, food complaints and transactions. Some 2,246 calls were food complaints investigated by the Food Authority and 2,617 food complaints about retail outlets were referred to the relevant local council (councils are responsible for retail food businesses in NSW).

Of the food complaints investigated by the Food Authority the breakdown of the types of complaints were:

Foodborne illness 19%

Food handling and hygiene 17%

Food labelling 17%

Foreign matter issues (various) 14%

Other* 33%

*Other - includes food quality, food regulations, illegal operation, product composition, unsafe and unsuitable product and fees and service.

We would encourage anyone who has a food complaint relating to NSW product, including seafood substitution, to report it to us for investigation.

SEAFOOD INDUSTRY AUSTRALIA

What we'd like to know is what does Seafood Industry Australia think about our findings? 

While the sample size is quite small, we are concerned and disappointed with the results.

Transparency and truth in labelling underpin trust for any industry. 

The Australian seafood industry has been lobbying on this issue, particularly around the need for Country of Origin Labelling for seafood in the food service sector, for many years now.  In the retail sector, consumers are provided with clear origin information, with the percentage “Australianness” now being identified following labelling law changes in 2017. We struggle to understand why the same courtesy is not shown to consumers when they dine out or purchase take away food.  Research shows that the majority of consumers believe that, in the absence of a country of origin, the seafood they are consuming is Australian. Given over 70% of the seafood consumed in Australia is imported, it is highly unlikely this is the actually the case.

We have worked to raise community awareness of this issue, for instance highlighting the fact that “barramundi” is often imported and arguing against the use of the name “bream” for imported tilapia.

 

What is SIA doing to stamp out seafood substitution in the industry?

SIA is working to promote truth in labelling and CoOL in food service.  We also have a representative on the FishNames Committee. 

We understand that unless country of origin is included on menus there is little the ACCC can do to investigate false and misleading statements regarding CoOL. 

We do not have a regulatory or enforcement role. 

Seafood substitution has been an issue for a long time, how can consumers trust an industry that has shown these instances of fraud?

 

Some of SIA’s members are investigating the use of “fingerprinting” to substantiate origin.  It is early days, but our industry is innovating and embracing technology to provide transparency along the supply chain.

It is the role of the regulators, health inspectors and our legal system to investigate and prosecute illegal activity such as food fraud.

 

Who does regulate the industry?

 

The Australian seafood industry is highly regulated, from catch to plate.  We have fisheries managers in all states, territories and in commonwealth waters. We are subject to the same food safety and traceability requirements as other food supply chains.  Food safety requires traceability from catch to plate and these systems are subject to regular review and audit. 

  

What will SIA do to address this moving forward?

 

SIA has recently launched “Our Pledge” which is a commitment to the addressing community concerns.  We are currently developing performance indicators to demonstrate this commitment and we are also undertaking regular community sentiment surveys.

Transparency and ensuring we continue to provide the best Australian seafood to the community for generations to come are critical elements of “Our Pledge”.

FOOD STANDARDS ANZ

The Food Standards Code has generic labelling requirements for the name or description of a food including fish and meat. However, like fish the Code doesn’t define meat names.

Food labelling laws require food to be truthfully labelled. For example, if a product is labelled as ‘Beef Lasagne’ then it must contain beef. See http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/labelling/truth/Pages/default.aspx

The code does not regulate in terms of names of species, (ie is snapper actually snapper) as that is considered part of  “truth in labelling” which is enforced by the ACCC.