Country of Origin Labelling

A year ago we explored the question of what was the most valuable role that governments could play in capitalising on supplying Australian food and fibre products to the booming export markets to our north (read article here).

During the intervening 12-months our opinion that there needs to be increased promotion of Australian product through a dedicated branding initiative has not diminished. In fact, as the economy goes through the transition that we hear so much about, the need for such action is heightened.

Over recent weeks there has been some commentary on virtually the inverse of an export brand in the form of Country of Origin Labeling.

Stimulated by the Hepatitis A berry outbreak of February this year, the Department of Industry and Science has conducted two-months worth of industry consultation, and now has a community survey open (CoOL Community Survey) until 3 July.

Commendable as it is to consult broadly, it is difficult to shake the notion that this exercise is being guided down a certain path. Admittedly, we did not participate in the industry consultations, however a healthy dose of skepticism is always warranted when community views are gathered in a closed format as this one is.

It’s the considered opinion of this business that what is truly required is to burn the Rome of food labeling to the ground and rebuild it in its entirety based on what it is that the consumer wants. Nay, demands.

We are living in a Monty Pythonesque food labeling dystopia when food can be ‘Made in Australia’ without using any Australian ingredients.

It has been made abundantly clear by the Australian public (who coincidentally consume these products, feed them to their children, and actually pay for them) that they simply want to know where their food comes from.

One would think that by starting with such a simple premise it would be near impossible to obfuscate the matter to such an extent that the Department finds that current laws are ‘of little relevance to consumers’ whilst simultaneously being ‘burdensome to business.’

It is our sincere hope the current consultative process yields a clear and concise representation of where the product has come from to permit Australian consumers the ability to make informed purchasing decisions.

Now that is starting to sound a bit like a brand.

Food for Asia initiative

Australia is ideally placed to supply a hungry market emerging to our north

By Angus Nicholls

Read this article at

Australia is ideally placed to supply a hungry market emerging to our northIt is hard to believe that the consumer class emerging from Mumbai to Shanghai will reach 3 billion people by 2030. That is a lot of mouths to feed!

Australian governments across the board have identified primary producers as being exceptionally well placed to capitalise on this dynamic in the markets to our north. But what is the most valuable role that government can play from here on out?

It is our view the macro policy settings are either right, or heading in the right direction. For example, we have, or are working on:

  • Free Trade Agreements;
  • Targeted Grants Programs;
  • International Business Offices;
  • Export Strategies; and
  • Industry Roundtables

More specifically, Victoria has Food and Fibre Marketing Co-operatives Grants ($5M over 4 years), the Growing Food and Fibre Initiative ($124M over 8 years), an International Engagement Strategy ($50M over 4 years), and the Food to Asia Action Plan.

What we know on the ground is that it is extremely time consuming and expensive for Australian food and fibre producers to establish a sustainable foothold in new offshore markets. Especially where there are substantial cultural differences to be negotiated.

It is here that there is an apparent disconnect between policy settings and achieving aspirational goals for our farmers.

About the only Australian entities that can tough it out establishing new markets are the big players who are doing it anyway.

The challenge therefore is to focus on action that pulls our mid-tier and smaller primary producers into the exporting mix.

These are the businesses that are unlikely to have the resources, or the inclination to dig deep into their pockets and spend considerable time away from their enterprises to make the most of this evolving landscape and government encouragement. They also produce some of the nation’s most sought after products.

So what should be done?

We are of the view that there are plenty of activities that could be undertaken to make it worthwhile for our more boutique and niche suppliers to join this potential gold rush; such as national/state/sectoral branding, educational and cultural exchange, international office and secretarial support, and an event schedule that includes regional showcases of what Australian farmers have to offer the world.

A lot of the big picture work has already been carried out. It is now time to create an environment that sees our primary producers making the most of government policy and international infrastructure to truly incentivise them to take their products to the world.

We see taking this action as translating the bigger picture into stronger regional communities, more employment, and more profitable and innovative businesses. This makes both economic and political sense.

As Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest recently observed, we need a “Team Australia” and access to expertise can help deliver on these aspirations.

In a Victorian context we think that the simplest place to start would be to develop a “road map” for our primary producers that illuminates the path to market. Such a tool could, and should, be taken to our regions to highlight the opportunities and support that exist; as well as demystify the exporting process for those who are not doing it. By increasing the number and diversity of Victorian enterprises exporting, we will see these excellent policies deliver maximum benefit to the State.

Of course this is only the first play in what will be a long and beneficial game. There is plenty more work to be done with one of the major challenges on the government side being to translate theory into practice.


Angus Nicholls has a depth of experience in both the political and commercial worlds.

Over a 15-year career, Angus has been a senior government policy advisor at Federal level, a Councillor at Local government level and the General Manager of one of Australia’s largest seafood businesses.

He has developed a detailed understanding of primary produce, agricultural and industry policy at all levels of government and a deep understanding of local government planning, environmental and community amenity issues.

He is now a Senior Associate and the strategic communications firm Robert Masters & Associates.