QUEENSLAND Nationals Senator Susan McDonald voiced concern the red meat sector is being “led by the nose” on food labelling while the regulator consults about the Alternative Protein Council’s voluntary guidelines.
At a Senate Estimates hearing of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee yesterday the senator asked Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt what had been achieved about the Albanese Government’s election commitment to provide clearer food labelling.
“It would be fair to say that this has not been finalised, but I know the department is doing some work on this,” Mr Watt said.
“It’s also something I’ve talked about with the Red Meat Advisory Council among other stakeholders previously.”
DAFF deputy secretary and head of the Agriculture Policy, Research and Portfolio Strategy Group Rosemary Deininger said there has been some work in relation to food labelling.
“The key thing we are doing at the moment is some further consultation and a key thing that we are keen to engage on is some changes in the regulatory environment.”
Ms Deininger said the Alternative Proteins Council has released some voluntary guidelines that were in place now.
“The government hasn’t taken on board anything, this is an initiative of the Alternative Proteins Council.
“This is something that has occurred since the government announced its intentions in this area,” she said.
Senator McDonald said there has been a food labelling review in the last term of government, a Senate inquiry and at the May Senate Estimates the department said it was working on a response.
“So it’s now five months later, any update on the response to the Senate inquiry?”
Ms Deininger said one of the things the department is keen to do is to ensure that changes that have happened are taken into account.
“Any my understanding is that these voluntary guidelines from part of industry have been in play since that original announcement.
“So we wanted to understand the impact of those.”
Senator McDonald said the APC has been exposed as having a constitution “which outlined that they wanted to end animal production.”
Mr Watt rejected Senator McDonald’s assertion that the government had adopted the APC guidelines.
“But you are somehow making this group that says they want to end animal production, animal protein, that was in their constitution, it was all part of the Senate inquiry, it was well documented, and so now the voluntary guidelines they have put forward you are now assessing as if that is a sensible part of the framework?” she said.
“That’s not what the witness has said,” Mr Watt said.
“What they said is that they have been undertaking consultation, both across government, because this involves departments like Treasury, health, industry, external stakeholders … that they’ve been undertaking that consultation, and that consultation has continued now that that organisation has issued those voluntary guidelines.
“We haven’t adopted those guidelines, but the reaction of people to those guidelines is one of the things that is being consulted on – that’s what I heard the witnesses say,” Mr Watt said.
However, Senator McDonald said that after a departmental review, the Senate inquiry, the election commitment and now the department’s consultation on the “new landscape” with the APC guidelines, she is “very concerned having chaired the Senate’s meat definitions inquiry that this is the red meat industry being led by the nose down a track.”
Ms Deininger said the department was consulting with many industry organisations in the red meat, dairy and chicken meat sectors.