Australian Seafood Suppliers, Restaurants Spar on COOL Rules
While Australian seafood suppliers and processors are thrilled with proposed new Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) seafood rules, the restaurant industry is opposing the efforts. If passed, foodservice establishments across the country would have to label the country from which each of the seafood items on their menu is produced. Currently, only retailers are required to do so, except in the Northern Territory, where both retailers and restaurants must provide the country of origin for seafood.
The Australian House and Senate have been conducting inquiries about standardizing food labeling legislation across the country since earlier this year. A series of public hearings on the controversial issue have been held, and another one is scheduled for 13 November.
While Australian seafood suppliers are counting on COOL labeling to boost Australians’ consumption of domestic seafood versus imported, the foodservice industry says it would hurt their business.
“The numbers are difficult to determine, but we estimate it will cost restaurants between AUD 100 million (USD 87.4 million, EUR 69.18 million) and AUD 300 million (USD 262.1 million, EUR 207.94 million) to comply, because of the irregularity in the supply chain,” John Hart, CEO of the group Restaurant and Catering Australia (RCA), told SeafoodSource. With seafood, restaurants must change their menus several times a week because the type and origin of seafood they receive fluctuates often.
Not only must operators change their physical menus, but they must change menus at their front doors, on their web sites, and those posted on their social media accounts, Hart said. RCA is currently re-figuring the cost impact, which could range from AUD 3,000 (USD 2,620, EUR 2,080) to AUD 8,000 (USD 6,986, EUR 5,546) per restaurant.
However, the Australian Barramundi Farmers Association, the Australian Prawn Farmers Association (APFA) and other seafood groups say the required labeling will only be good for Australian seafood suppliers — and restaurants.
“In the Northern Territory, the only one with mandatory COOL labeling [at foodservice], seafood sales increased substantially due to consumer demand for the products,” Helen Jenkins, executive officer of the Australian Prawn Farmers Association (APFA), told SeafoodSource. In addition, the current lax rules hurt Australian prawn farmers because an estimated 76 percent of Australian seafood is imported.
“Restaurants substitute the cheaper prawns [imported prawns], but can still charge a higher price,” Jenkins said.
Hart argues that Australian seafood producers should not be casting a negative light on imported seafood, since Australia cannot produce enough to fill the demand and relies on foreign supply. “The negative campaign is not based on increasing consumption; instead, producers want to harden the price of Australian seafood,” Hart said. Already, many restaurants promote high quality Australian seafood, such as King George whiting, on their own, he added.
“We would be far better off promoting the positive aspects of Australian seafood as we do for lamb, pork, rice and other products, rather than a campaign that focuses on the negative. However, that is problematic for seafood, since there aren’t growers’ levies [like there are for other industries],” Hart said.