The Food Information to Consumer Regulation (FIC)

It came into force on December 13, 2011 with a three year transition period, so becomes effective from December 13, 2014. The new regulation brings EU rules on general and nutrition labelling together into a single regulation to simplify and consolidate existing labelling legislation.

Key areas of the regulation include:

  • Country of origin / place of provenance: origin requirements have been tightened and also extended to fresh and frozen meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry. Seafood is excluded because an origin in required under the Fish Labelling Regulations. For more information on these Regulations see www.seafish.org
  • Nutrition labelling: ‘back of pack’ information will become mandatory on the majority of pre packed foods, single ingredient unprocessed foods are exempt e.g. fish fillets.
  • Date marking: depending on the type of food, consumers will continue to see ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates on pre-packed foods. Where appropriate i.e. for meat and fish, there will also be a date of first freezing shown on food labels. The date of freezing requirements are covered in detail in this guide.
  • A minimum font size is introduced for the mandatory information on most food labels.
  • The types of vegetable oil used in food, such as palm oil, must be stated.
  • Allergen information will be extended to non pre-packed foods and catering situations with flexibility in how businesses provide this to consumers.
  • Added water in fishery products which have the appearance of being made from a cut, joint, slice, portion or whole fillet will need to be shown in the name of the food if it makes up more than 5% of the final product. More details are given in this guide.
  • More detail is given on mandatory information that must accompany the name of the food. This includes the use of the words ‘formed fish’ where a product gives the impression of having been made from a whole piece of fish when it is in fact made from pieces.

UK legislation

On 11 January 2006, the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 in England (and similar legislation in  Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) revoked and replaced most of the existing food hygiene national legislation. Also, these two pieces of legislation enact Regulation 178/2002:

  • The  Food Safety Act 1990 (as amended) prohibits the placing on the market of unsafe food and prohibits food being presented or labelled in such a way as to mislead the consumer. It also includes due diligence defence for offences.
  • The General Food Regulations 2004 enforce Regulation 178/2002 and introduce new requirements for traceability and for recall of unsafe food.

Australia Food Standards Code

This Standard sets out food safety and suitability requirements for seafood generally from pre-harvesting production of the seafood up to, but not including manufacturing operations.

Under this Standard, a seafood business must identify potential seafood safety hazards and implement controls that are commensurate with the risk. Additionally, this Standard requires primary producers and processors of certain bivalve molluscs to implement a food safety management system. This particular requirement also extends to manufacturing activities relating to bivalve molluscs.

For primary producers and processors of bivalve molluscs, the food safety management system incorporates conditions on the areas from which the product may be harvested or harvested for depuration or relaying, along with conditions on the water used for wet storage.

Imported Food Control Act 1992

The Imported Food Control Act was passed because of the perceived market failure in relation to imported foods . The Review Committee has considered the benefits and costs of the current legislation and has investigated alternative legislative strategies, with the general conclusion that legislation should be retained. It is important, then, to properly define the objectives of the legislation.

The Act has, as its primary objective, protection of public health, by ensuring food safety, but this objective is not clearly stated in the legislation. The long title of the Act is:“An Act to provide for the inspection and control of food imported into Australia, and for related purposes.”

It does not directly mention the protection of public health, which was given some emphasis in the Bill’s second reading speech, where Minister Griffiths stated that the Act aimed “at ensuring imported foods meet the same Australian food standards as local product”, and that “the focus will remain on public health matters, but enforcement of other food standards requirements will be included in the scope of the inspection program” (House of Representatives 1992). The Explanatory Memorandum stated that the Act made “imported foods subject to monitoring both for . . . safety from a consumer health perspective and for compliance within the broader provisions of the Australian Food Standards Code” (Senate 1992).

The Imported Food Control Act and the Imported Food Inspection Program need not duplicate government controls of all aspects of the domestic food safety and standards system, ie, the Food Standards Code, the Food Acts, Fair Trading Acts and the Food Hygiene Standards. State and Territory authorities remain responsible for regulating misleading labelling/trade description of all products offered for sale on the Australian domestic market, including imported food products.

The Imported Food Control Act and IFIP should be responsible for those areas of regulation where intervention at the border is the most effective and efficient means of controlling imports. Primarily, those areas are public health and safety requirements, which are, in the main, to be found in the food standards that comprise the Food Standards Code. That Code also includes certain labelling requirements. For administrative efficiency, these should remain within the scope of the Act and IFIP. There should be a range of measures to assure food safety, including certification agreements, quality assurance arrangements, inspection and end-product testing.

The Australian Seafood Standard

The Australian Seafood Standard (the Standard) reflects the seafood industry’s commitment to providing seafood for human consumption that is produced in accordance with internationally recognised standards and meets the requirements of domestic and international customers and food safety authorities.

Consumer confidence that seafood is ‘safe’, ‘clean’ and ‘green’, is vital to the well-being of seafood industry, the tens of thousands of jobs it supports, and regional coastal communities around Australia. The Standard will enhance consumer confidence in seafood for human consumption that is produced or traded commercially in Australia, while also providing the flexibility for seafood businesses to implement cost efficient, relevant and innovative management systems to achieve the required seafood safety and suitability outcomes.

The Australian Seafood Industry Council (ASIC), Seafood Directions 99 and Seafood Directions 2001 identified the need for a single standard for the safety and suitability of seafood produced or traded commercially in Australia as a high priority. The Standard has been developed by Seafood Services Australia in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders.

The Australian Fish Names Standard AS SSA 5300

It prescribes a standard fish name for each species of fish produced or trade in Australia  includes over 4,000 Australian and imported species was approved by Standards Australia as an official Australian Standard in 2007 was developed by the Australian Fish Names Committee.

Australia has over 5000 native species of finfish, and many more crustaceans and molluscs. Several hundred of these species are important commercially, and many others support recreational activities such as fishing and diving. Australia also imports seafood products consisting of many other fish species from around the world to help satisfy the increasing demand for seafood.

Confusion over fish names has been caused by the numerous species Australia has on offer, a species being known by more than one name, or the same name being used for more than one species. As early as the 1920s, meetings were held in Sydney to discuss fish names as the local and regional variations were becoming apparent.

Extensive work on standardizing names used for fish in Australia has been undertaken since the early 1980s by industry, governments, scientists and other stakeholders. Major progress has been made since 1992 as a result of strategic investments by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. Seafood Services Australia (SSA) accepted responsibility for standardizing fish names in 2001 and continued to maintain this momentum. SSA was accredited as a standards setting body in 2006 and subsequently developed the first version of this standard. SSA ceased operations in 2013.

Purpose of this Standard

Use of standard fish names in Australia, as defined in this Standard, achieves outcomes that are consistent with the aims of industry and governments, including:

Improved monitoring and stock assessment enhances the sustainability of fisheries resources;

  • Increased efficiency in seafood marketing improves consumer confidence and industry profitability;
  • Improved accuracy in trade descriptions enables consumers to make more informed choices when purchasing seafood and reduces the potential for misleading and deceptive conduct;
  • More efficient management of seafood related public health incidents and food safety through improved labelling and species identification reduces public health risk and facilitates efficient product recall arrangements;
  • Enhanced marketability and consumer acceptability of the standard fish names used for a species eliminating misleading and deceptive conduct.