Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott backed plans on Thursday to introduce country-of-origin labeling in the wake of a hepatitis A outbreak, potentially risking contravention of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
With 18 confirmed cases of hepatitis A linked to consumption of berries sold by Patties Foods Ltd, Abbott said he had asked members of his Cabinet to draft legislation by the end of March to provide greater transparency to consumers.
It marked a reversal of his previous position that such legislation would raise the cost of food.
Australia was among plaintiffs against the United States after it introduced its own stronger country-of-origin labeling laws for beef products last year.
The WTO ruled against the United States in October, arguing that country-of-origin labeling provided an incentive to favor domestic livestock.
Gerard McManus, a spokesman for Australia's agricultural minister, said Abbott had told the minister to ensure the proposed legislation did not fall foul of WTO legislation.
This kind of reporting gets me exasperated. Every measure risks contravening WTO rules, to some extent. That is, every measure could be drafted in a way that violates the rules. Now, it is true, of course, that a recent origin labelling measure was challenged successfully at the WTO (not challenged by Australia, as the article says, but still). But I don't see anything to indicate that this particular Australian measure will violate the rules, and it shouldn't be hard to draft it so that it does not.
(It will likely raise the cost of food, of course, but that's a different issue).