The labels you use on your products are important. They identify your brand and distinguish your business from competitors. However, Australia has strict laws that govern the labelling and packaging you use to sell your products. In particular, your products must comply with the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), as well as any industry-specific regulations. Failure to comply with these laws can result in serious fines or penalties, a product recall, or even worse, risks to your consumers’ health.

This article will discuss the labelling and packaging requirements under the ACL and the requirements relating to misleading or deceptive conduct. It will also consider what labelling and packaging laws apply in the food and cosmetics industry.

Australian Consumer Law

The ACL is a national law that aims to protect consumers, and ensure fair trading and competition in Australia. As a general rule, all product packaging and labelling must comply with the ACL.

For example, the ACL requires that:

  • most food products have a notice or label to inform customers which country the product came from;
  • all products meet the relevant safety and information standards (e.g. providing clear instructions for proper use and warnings against possible misuse); and
  • all products comply with any industry-specific regulations that apply (e.g. food must comply with the labelling requirements under the food standards code).

There are also two fundamental rules of advertising and selling that the ACL imposes on all businesses. According to these rules, you must not:

  1. engage in conduct that misleads or deceives, or is likely to mislead or deceive your customers; or
  2. make false or misleading claims or statements.

These two rules can overlap in practice, and a business can make a statement that breaches both rules.

There is no strict legal definition of misleading or deceptive. This means that you can often determine whether conduct is in breach of these rules by applying common sense.

Misleading and deceptive conduct may include:

  • statements or claims that you make on your product labels; and
  • information that you withhold or remain silent about. 
A few examples of this may include:
  • labelling a hair care product as ‘natural’, when only a small percentage of ingredients in the product are natural (this may lead a consumer to believe that the product is made of natural ingredients);
  • packaging an olive oil product with a map of Italy when the product is made in Australia (this could lead a consumer to believe that your olive oil product is of Italian origin); or
  • labelling your bathroom cleaning product with ‘kills 99.9% of bacteria’ when you have not conducted any formal testing to support this claim.

To avoid claims of misleading or deceptive conduct, you should ensure that you have evidence to support any claims you make about your product. If you think that your claims are capable of leading a consumer into believing something that is not true, you should remove them from your packaging.

Industry-Specific Laws

In addition to the ACL, your product packaging and labelling must comply with any specific laws that apply in your industry. This will depend on what you are selling. 

For example, there are specific laws that apply to food, electrical goods, cosmetics, clothing and cigarette labelling.

Food

If you are selling packaged food in Australia, you must ensure that your food labelling complies with the food standards code (FSC). The FSC sets standards for what information must be included on all food labels, such as the:

  • name and/or description of the food;
  • identification of the ‘lot’ number;
  • name and Australian address of the supplier;
  • list of ingredients;
  • date mark;
  • nutrition information panel;
  • country of origin; and
  • warning and advisory statements (e.g. allergens or intolerances).

The FSC also includes specific labelling and information requirements that apply to certain foods only, and what nutritional and health claims can be made about certain foods.

Cosmetics

If you are selling cosmetic products in Australia, you will need to comply with the Trade Practices (Consumer Product Information Standards) (CPIS) for cosmetics. The CPIS sets out the requirements for ingredient labelling on cosmetics.

One of the key packaging requirements for cosmetics is that all ingredients must be clearly listed on the:

  • container of the product; or
  • product itself if the product is not in a container.

If this is not possible due to the size, shape or nature of the product, you must display the ingredients in another way for consumers to easily see what the product contains.

For example, you might sell a skincare product that is packaged in a small box containing an information leaflet listing the ingredients of the product. This may not be compliant with the CPIS as the consumer cannot see what ingredients the product contains at the point of sale.

It is also important to note that other laws apply to specific types of cosmetic products, including:

  • sunscreen;
  • anti-acne; and
  • oral care.

Key Takeaways

Australia has strict labelling and packaging laws. Failing to comply with these laws can result in damage to your business and customers. As a general rule, all product packaging and labels must comply with the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). The ACL prohibits you from making misleading, deceptive, or false claims on your products. You must also ensure that your product labels comply with any specific laws that apply in your industry, such as the food standards code. If you need help understanding and complying with your labelling and packaging requirements in Australia, contact LegalVision’s regulatory and compliance lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

About LegalVision: LegalVision is a tech-driven, full-service commercial law firm that uses technology to deliver a faster, better quality and more cost-effective client experience.
Graci Chen

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