Senator hits out at green-mail

Written By miftah nugraha on Minggu, 04 Agustus 2013 | 19.55

HEALTHY CHOICE: Salamanca Market stall holder Jonathan Cooper says more people are choosing to buy organic produce. Picture: SAM ROSEWARNE

THE proliferation of green labels, stamps and logos is leaving grocery shoppers baffled.

Apart from compulsory nutritional labels, front and backs of packs are cluttered with paid-for endorsements, green ticks and sustainability stickers.

Even health organisations, which fought to have labelling improved, now see the need for clarity.

Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia has raised concern some manufacturers and food service providers continue to ignore the demand for food label standardisation.

Coeliac Australia, which has a fee-based tick of approval logo, said it would prefer labelling to address medical issues rather than "lifestyle choices".

Queensland Nationals Senator Ron Boswell says "green-mail" stamps by organisations such as the Marine Stewardship Council are unnecessary and force producers to bear the cost, despite government authorities carrying out similar research.

The West Australian Government has committed $14 million to have its fishing industry MSC-certified.

"The green aspects are strictly controlled, the Government is getting paid to do it," Senator Boswell said.

"So why does the Government do it and then ring up [a third party organisation] for another 5 per cent [cost] and you get a green tick. I call it green-mail and I don't retract from it.

"This idea that a government spends all this money on research and science, and everyone says, 'That's nice but let's get a green tick', I just can't understand it."

While the labels attract a premium price, do shoppers get what they pay for?

In a recent ACCC decision, seven bottled water brands were told to remove the word organic from their labelling and the Federal Court recently found Baiada Poultry, owner of Steggles, engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct in claiming its meat chickens were "free to roam" in large barns when stocking densities were less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper.

Food labelling is an important aspect of Jonathan Cooper's Hobart business.

The organic grocer has operated his stall at Salamanca Market for the past 10 years and seen the public interest in food origins grow.

"More and more people are becoming aware of their options around food and they are choosing organic, but also local food," he said.

"People are much more aware of the benefits of fresh, clean products, but they want to support robust economic practice which offers fair prices for farmers."

For this reason, Mr Cooper uses a labelling system on his stall which indicates price, what the product is, its origin and its certification.

"We use third parties to certify our product. There's about eight or nine different ones these days. It's a quality assurance system for customers.

"Some smaller growers aren't certified, but we have built up relationships with them over the years. We know them and have been to their farms, so we can verify them," he said.

On a broader level, he said labelling was also a high priority as the GMO debate heats up.

"People should have the opportunity to make informed decisions. Labelling should be stringent, we need strong laws."

Branding expert and industry stalwart Austin Begg of Traffic, who launched famous labels such as SPC Baked Beans and Spaghetti and Sorbent toilet paper, says the final say on compliance and labelling should be with the major supermarkets as they have the expertise and a corporate responsibility to uphold the law and honesty in packaging to protect consumers.

While icons and devices can be helpful in winning client trust and loyalty, some manufacturers use tricks to lure customers -- but such deception is uncovered more quickly today, Mr Begg said.

"Just look what happened to the Heart Foundation Tick. The credibility and integrity of the tick was questioned by many consumers when it went to McDonald's," he said.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council says the labels products carry are closely regulated.

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