When Can Imported Fish Oil be “Made in Australia”?

Ocean Oils is a Melbourne based bulk wholesale processing and refining company that extracts squalene fish oil from deepwater sharks.   Only the livers from a few shark species contain squalene oil.  There is strong consumer demand for the product because of the health benefits it provides.

Ocean Oils Managing Director Richard Saul has explained that he joined SETFIA because he wanted to assure himself and his customers that his raw material was responsibly sourced and the only way to do this was to understand the management and science in place and meet the fishermen catching his raw material.

Richard explained to SETFIA that over 25 years he had built a strong export business based on high quality manufacturing and ethical sourcing of raw material.  However, what happened next he didn’t see coming and has seen his product become almost impossible to sell and his prices drop.

What happened next was that the Made in Australia brand, which is provided by Australian Made Campaign Ltd in return for a fee, began to appear on many brands of fish oil.  Through his own investigations Richard found that the logo had been granted to 63 brands of squalene oil and 11 brands of krill oil even though they did not use fish caught or grown in Australia.  Many of these brands even use the word “Australia” or Australian geography in their brand name!

SETFIA called a leading squalene oil brand who will not be named at this stage.  They have a derivative of “Australia” in their name and use the Made in Australia logo.  Their website states, “Australia’s … clear waters… are isolated from environmental threats and pollutants that exist in other parts of the world”.    The spokesman admitted that their oil is imported and were not totally sure of where it came from.  SETFIA’s investigations have revealed that it is likely from south-east Asia via a New Zealand sales agent.  When asked about the morality of selling imported oil as Made in Australia their spokesman agreed that, “it isn’t the right thing to do and could be conceived as being misleading”, adding, “if I don’t do this I can’t compete”.

Under new Federal Country of Origin Labeling Laws businesses will have until 30 June 2018 to comply with the new requirements. Labels applied to food products after this date will need to comply with new requirements.  Only food products grown, produced or made in Australia can carry a country of origin mark. Products must also carry  a bar chart showing the % of Australian content and a text statement about the % of Australian ingredients.

It is hard to image how imported fish oil could obtain a Made in Australia logo under the old or new rules but to confirm what the future held Richard wrote to the Australian Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell AO.  Ms Carnell confirmed that the ACCC had advised her that imported fish oil could not be labelled as being made in Australia from February 2017 onwards.  Ms Carnell explained that the ACCC was likely to implement a transition plan to encourage compliance with the new rules.  This might explain why the Made in Australia website still lists so many fish oils that simply aren’t.

A few days ago the ACCC added a section to their website under the heading, “Does the encapsulation of marine oil result in a substantial transformation?”,  stating, “we do not consider that this [encapsulation of marine oil in Australia] would satisfy the Australian Consumer Law criteria for safely making a ‘made in’ claim”.  The ruling can be found here.

Incidentally, Ms Carnell (the Small Business Ombudsman) is also a Director of Made in Australia Ltd.  SETFIA contacted Made in Australia Ltd and spoke to CEO Ian Harrison.  Mr Harrison was aware of the ACCC ruling and had met with them several times.  He agreed that encapsulated imported oil should not be classed as made in Australia and acknowledged the July 2018 labelling deadline.  He would not be drawn on the date that he would withdraw the logo from imported oil but said he would be writing to affected licencees, “very soon”.

The Association will track this issue closely and urges Made in Australia Ltd to give businesses like Richard’s a fair suck of the saveloy by withdrawing the advantages of their branding from foreign oils sooner rather than later.

Richard can be contacted at Ocean Oils on (03)9931-0911 and would love to meet companies seeking squalene oil that really is made in Australia.