Imported Food Control Amendment Bill 2017 (Cth)

Monday 12 February 2018 @ 9.34 a.m. | Industrial Law | Legal Research

Having been introduced on 1 June 2017, the Imported Food Control Amendment Bill 2017 (the “Bill”) is now before the Senate. This Bill was introduced as a means of further protecting Australian consumer health by improving the safety system of food imports into Australia. As outlined on page 1 of the explanatory memorandum:

“The Imported Food Control Amendment Bill 2017 (the Bill) will amend the Imported Food Control Act 1992 (the Act). The amendments will strengthen the current risk-based management approach of imported food safety to better protect the health of consumers while reducing the regulatory burden for compliant food importers. The Bill supports Australia’s international obligations, including under the World Health Organization International Health Regulations 2005 and the World Trade Organization Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures 1994 (The SPS Agreement)” (Explanatory Memorandum, p 1).


The importance of import laws for food being brought into Australia was outlined by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, in the second reading speech:

 “Australia has a world-class food safety management system. Our exported food is highly sought after internationally due to our world-class food safety reputation. This benefits our farmers, our economy, and our nation as a leading exporter of high quality safe food. It is essential that we ensure food being brought into Australia is safe. As globalisation changes how food is traded around the world, we need to strengthen our laws to meet the changing landscape” (Second Reading Speech).

The stated purpose of implementing the Bill is to improve food safety standards for imports. These improvements have been deemed essential in a global economy where incidents of breaches of food safety can cause serious risks to human health, as well as vast economic loss. One major example of such consequences was the hepatitis A outbreak in 2015, linked to the import of frozen berries. This outbreak exposed the weaknesses in the safety standards of imports into Australia, particularly in the areas of “identifying and responding to new food safety risks and ensuring importers are accountable for importing safe food across their supply chain.”

In the Media Release dated 1 June 2017, Minister Barnaby Joyce is quoted as stating:

"The changes strengthen our imported food inspection, giving the government greater power to hold food at the border if there are reasonable grounds to suspect it possesses a serious risk to human health,

"This will also boost the government's response and management arrangements for imported food safety risks.

"These enhanced powers address limitations to current laws such as lack of flexibility for identifying and responding to risks, highlighted through the 2015 response to the hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen berries.

"The changes put greater onus on importers to ensure the food they bring into our country is safe, and that they have internationally recognised food safety controls in place throughout the supply chain.

"The strengthened laws also take into consideration the food safety and regulatory systems in exporting countries and introduce stronger traceability requirements.

"Australia is the proud exporter of premium, clean and safe food that meets the very high standards set by our international trading partners.

"Aussie consumers must have the same level of assurance if they choose to buy imported food at local supermarkets or the corner store.

"We need to provide this assurance without burdening local importers with unnecessary red tape or consumers with price increases or reduced choice.

"While our food regulatory system is a proven, robust system with processes to manage and respond to detections of unsafe food, we are building on its strengths and addressing its limitations."

The Bill

As per the explanatory memorandum, p 4, the Bill will:

  • require documentary evidence from importers to demonstrate that they have effective internationally recognised food safety controls in place throughout the supply chain for the types of food where at-border testing alone is insufficient to provide assurance of food safety;
  • broaden Australia’s emergency powers to allow food to be held at the border where there is uncertainty about the safety of a particular food and where the scientific approach to verify its safety is not established;
  • provide additional powers to monitor and manage new and emerging risks;
  • recognise an entire foreign country’s food safety regulatory system where it is equivalent to Australia’s food safety system, which will facilitate less intervention at the border for food products from that country;
  • align the definition of food with other Commonwealth legislation;
  • establish differentiated enforcement provisions to enable a graduated approach to non-compliance;
  • require all importers of food to be able to trace food one step forward and one step backward;
  • address minor technical issues with the current legislation to ensure efficient administration of the imported food legislation.

The Bill proposes to fulfil these objectives through a number of amendments to the Imported Food Control Act 1992. These amendments focus on: the implementation of food safety management certificates, holding orders, classification of food, recognition of foreign country’s food safety system, and enforcement.

Schedule 1, Part 5 of the Bill creates a number of offences relating to non-compliance with the safety standards. The offences include the introduction of importation offences, labelling offences, and offences relating to dealing with examinable food.

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Imported Food Control Amendment Bill 2017 (Cth), explanatory memorandum and second reading speech available on TimeBase's LawOne service.

Media Release: Protecting Aussies with stronger imported food laws (1 June 2017).  Australian Government, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

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