The Australian Government is aware of community interest concerning food labelling, particularly the use and labelling of palm oil as an ingredient in food products.
In 2011, an independent panel undertook a review of food labelling law and policy. The final report, Labelling Logic: Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (2011) (Labelling Logic) contained 61 recommendations regarding food labelling.
In considering its response to Labelling Logic, the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (the Forum) agreed to a framework to guide decision making on food labelling using a three-tiered hierarchy consisting of food safety, followed by preventive health, and then consumer value issues. The Forum considers that, where appropriate, any actions in relation to consumer value issues, such as palm oil as an ingredient, should generally be initiated by industry self-regulation in response to consumer demand.
Recommendation 12 of this report was that, where sugars, fats or vegetable oils are added as separate ingredients in food, the terms ‘added sugars’ and ‘added fats’ and/or ‘added vegetable oils’ be used in the ingredient list as the generic term, followed by a bracketed list (e.g. added sugars [fructose, glucose syrup, honey], added fats [palm oil, milk fat] or added vegetable oils [sunflower oil, palm oil]).
In response to this recommendation, the Forum requested Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) undertake a technical evaluation and provide advice to fully consider the expected benefits and cumulative impacts of possible changes to the labelling requirements.
At its meeting on 25 November 2016, the Forum considered the technical report that was prepared by FSANZ. The technical report is now publicly available online on the FSANZ website.
At this meeting Forum members reiterated that the Australian and New Zealand joint food regulation system is a strong system, based on scientific evidence and expertise that protects the health and safety of consumers. Any labelling decision would be made in line with those health and safety goals. Members also noted that voluntary schemes exist that allow producers to identify products using sustainably-sourced ingredients, including oils.
The Forum agreed that further work is required before a decision can be made on palm oil labelling. Therefore, the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC), led by New Zealand, has prepared policy work to identify next steps in relation to naming sources of fats and oils to support consumers to make informed choices consistent with Australian and New Zealand dietary guidelines.
On 28 April 2017, the Forum considered the scoping paper that was provided by FRSC and agreed to extend the scope of this project to cover all parts of the food label, including the identification of all fats and oils and to proceed with the development of regulatory and non regulatory options. The residual issues, such as additional consumer research, will also be undertaken as part of this next stage with a progress report to be provided at the next Forum meeting.
Currently, manufacturers and importers are able to voluntarily declare palm oil in the ingredient list. When palm oil is not declared, consumers can request this information. The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code requires the name and address of the supplier to be listed on the label, and many suppliers provide a free call telephone number on their labels.