Australia’s federal agriculture minister has stated that he will call an emergency meeting of the country’s food regulation council to push for greater cooperation and tougher labelling laws to tackle global competition and protect local producers. His suggestion that Coles and Woolworths change their buying policies in line with this initiative could prove key to safeguarding Homegrown produce.
Australia’s federal agriculture minister, Peter McGauran, believes the buying practices of supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths need to change to protect Australian producers from increasing global competition.
His decision to call the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council meeting comes as farmers across Australia are staging protests against food imports, with Tasmanian vegetable growers taking the ‘Fair Dinkum Food Campaign’ to the rest of Australia. The campaign, which was launched after Tasmanian farmers suffered major contract cuts in the pea and potato sectors, aims to lobby for tougher country of origin food labelling laws and to promote homegrown produce.
A food labelling initiative named HomeGrown was launched earlier this year, in a bid to help consumers identify the origin of the products they buy more easily. However, the present labelling laws have been described as ambiguous and inadequate, with unpackaged food labelling attracting particular concern.
Clearer labelling laws should lead to an increase in sales of homegrown produce in Australian supermarkets, which is needed to keep many Australian farmers in business. According to Mr McGauran, numerous surveys have shown that consumers overwhelmingly want to buy Australian produce. Current poor sales in homegrown produce have been blamed on poor labelling legislation and on Australia’s largest supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, buying large quantities of imported goods.
Whatever the outcome of the campaign efforts, it will no doubt prove difficult to reconcile the disparate demands of local farmers and Australian importers, and indeed big retailers, which acquire imported goods at prices often much lower than local producers can afford to sell at. Australia’s exports industry must also be considered, as 65% of Australian produce is currently exported, making this an important source of revenue. Any actions potentially damaging to this industry, such as protectionist campaigns, are unlikely to be welcomed. Thus, the rather more gentle approach of promoting homegrown produce, encouraging greater cooperation between supermarkets, food growers and the Australian government, and working to address labelling issues looks like the most effective way to help safeguard local producers.
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