Long Standing Consumer Protection under Threat

Consumers are protected by legislation controlling the way in which pre-packed food and other goods are labelled. Long established protection will disappear if the Government agrees to some of the options in a Government Review Paper Review of Part 4 of the National Trade Measurement Regulations Options Paper.

The National Measurement Institute within the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, is conducting a review of Part 4 of the National Trade Measurement Regulations (NTMR) 2009.

Part 4 defines how measurements related to packaging are controlled including requirements that the quantity statement must be on the main display panel and printed in characters of a minimum size relative to the size of the pack.

The NTMR paper outlines three possible options:

  1. Leave the regulations as they are currently written.
  2. Clarify specific regulations and add an exclusion of cosmetic products.
  3. Implementing a principles-based approach to the measurement mark.

The last option, currently preferred by the Department, removes many of the regulations that control the size, orientation and position of the quantity statement. The most significant aspect of this proposed change is that it would allow industry to move the quantity statement from the front of the package and rely on requirements stating that the statement must be ‘legible’ and ‘prominent’ instead. This means that the packer chooses the size of print and where the quantity statement is positioned.

While there may be some benefits for industry there appears to be little consideration of the public good. Consumers interested in the quantity of particular products would have to turn the package around and search for the quantity. Instead of increasing the price per pack manufacturers could maintain the price and use the same size carton or bottle while reducing the contents and hiding the quantity on the back panel.

In Europe the quantity statement may be on the front or elsewhere on the pack.  The UK Guardian newspaper recently reported that European port officials have warned the British Government that with the devaluing of the Pound Sterling exporters to the UK have been quietly shrinking the size of products such as chocolate bars and fruit juices since the Brexit vote but not reducing the prices charged to British consumers in the shops. Examples included orange juice in bottles of 950ml instead of 1L and decreasing the amount of chocolate in chocolate bars.

Currently Australian consumers can clearly see the quantity and compare quantities but not if the proposed regulation changes go ahead.

One option is to exclude cosmetic products from certain requirements. This includes skin creams, shampoos and many other cosmetic products. It is claimed that relabelling imported product adds to the cost. However to the lay person it is difficult to see how, with the multifaceted pricing structure of cosmetics, any savings would be returned to the consumer. The cosmetic industry is also noted for its innovative package designs and without a front of pack quantity statement consumers would be unable to see what actual quantity of product the pack held.

CHOICE, Australia’s largest consumer advocacy group are running a campaign to maintain the quantity statement on the front of the pack. Consumers are urged to contact Craig Johnson, who is leading the Review, and Craig Laundy MP (the responsible Minister).

Consumers are urged to support CHOICE’s campaign and and/or contact Craig Johnson and Craig Laundy directly.