Australian foodservice labeling: Seafood sector calls for expansion of Country of Origin Labeling

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06 Jul 2018 --- All food sold in retail stores in Australia has to be marked with the product’s country of origin, since new regulation came into force last week (July 1). But the Country of Origin Labeling changes do not cover the foodservice sector, which has led to calls for a widening of the regulation by trade bodies. For example, The Seafood Industry Australia (SIA) is now urging consumers to demand the same for foodservice sales.

“The changes to Country of Origin Labelling in retail are excellent as they provide consumers with clear information on where their food comes from, which will allow them to make informed purchasing decisions; but retail is only half of the story,” according to SIA CEO Jane Lovell.

“The new laws don’t apply food sold in places like restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs and fish and chip shops. We want to see these labeling laws extended to foodservice.” 

At the supermarket and when you buy fresh fish, by law, all seafood has to be labeled with its country of origin. But, when you go out to dine, there is no obligation to label where the seafood you order comes from. 

“What SIA can’t understand is what the difference is – the government believes consumers have a right to know where their seafood comes in retail – why not when they are eating out?” Lovell muses. 

“The country of origin is the second most influential factor for consumers when choosing which seafood they buy,” she claims. 

“Twenty years ago almost all the seafood Australians ate was Australian seafood. Most assume it still is. But, people are stunned when they find out 70 percent of seafood eaten in Australia is imported.”

According to Lovell, she isn’t vilifying imported seafood but believes that consumers should be provided with the same information in foodservice that they have in retail. 

“Two Senate inquiries have called for this loophole to be closed. More than 86,000 consumers signed petitions asking for Country of Origin Labeling to become compulsory for seafood sold in the foodservice industry. Yet nothing has changed,” she states.

“The Northern Territory successfully introduced Country of Origin Labeling for cooked and pre-prepared seafood in the foodservice industry in 2008. We want the rest of the country to follow suit,” she claims.

“What we’d like to see is Australian seafood identified on menus, simple as that. At a minimum, we’d like to see something like Australian Barramundi, but businesses can be as specific as they want. For imported seafood, a simple ‘i’ to denote it is imported with a clear explanation of what it means printed somewhere on the menu.” 

Other protein sources like beef and lamb aren’t subject to the same import battle as seafood. Lovell says this is why the origin of seafood needs to be listed. 

“Australians want to buy Australian produce and many are prepared to pay more for Australian seafood,” adds Lovell. 

“It also supports our fishers and fisheries, which provide some of the most sustainable seafood in the world.”

“We’ve argued for this change at a political level, but were told consumers should ask foodservice staff where their seafood is from and this doesn’t work,” she claims. 

Research conducted for SIA found that 66 percent of foodservice staff couldn’t tell customers where the seafood they were serving was from. 

Lovell says Australians want to know whether their seafood is Australian or not and called on the government to “give them what they want.” 

“To give consumers the right of choice and seafood producers a fair go, the Australian Government needs to introduce legislation, so the foodservice sector has to label seafood with the country of origin, just like the fish retailers have done since 2006,” Lovell notes.

“Country of Origin Labeling is already working in some restaurants and cafes in Australia with minimal cost or disruption. The argument that the introduction of Country of Origin Labeling in foodservice would be a huge cost imposition doesn’t wash. SIA welcomes the opportunity to work with the foodservice industry and there are practical, low-cost options out there.”

“The debate has run long enough – consumers deserve to know where the seafood they eat is from, no matter where they buy it,” she concludes.

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