Kiwis are one step closer to being able to identify where their fruit and veges come from after the Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill passed its first reading in Parliament on 12 April.
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We’ve been campaigning for country of origin labelling (CoOL) because we think consumers have the right to know where their food comes from.
The bill will require country of origin labelling of fruit and vege, as well as other single component foods.
The bill has been referred to the Primary Production select committee and the public now has the opportunity to make submissions. The closing date for submissions is 18 May 2017.
We’re encouraging consumers to have their say on the bill and let parliament know the law needs to change.
Our recent survey with Horticulture New Zealand found 71% of New Zealanders want mandatory country of origin labelling for fruit and vegetables. Only 9% were opposed.
Survey results also confirm the existing voluntary approach to labelling isn’t giving consumers the facts they need to make informed choices.
65% of shoppers said they looked for labelling information when they bought fresh fruit. But less than a third (32%) always found it. Even fewer (29%) always found the information when they bought fresh veges.
Country of origin labelling is already mandatory in many other countries. At least 50 countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, have mandatory labelling requirements.
The text of the bill is available at legislation.govt.nz.
With the exception of wine, New Zealand law doesn’t require the country of origin of food and drinks to be disclosed to shoppers.
In 2005, the government opted out of joining Australia in mandating CoOL under the Food Standards Code on the grounds it would be an impediment to trade. The government and some big export players in the dairy and meat industry argued a voluntary system was a better option. But many of the countries we trade with require CoOL.
Our latest survey shows the voluntary system isn’t working for consumers. Shoppers have a poor experience when they want to find out where their food comes from. A voluntary system also means there’s no independent monitoring or enforcement.
When labels are provided, the information can be meaningless. When we checked country of origin statements on 81 packets of frozen berries and veges, 21% had vague statements they were “made or packed in New Zealand from local and/or imported ingredients” or “packed in New Zealand from imported ingredients”.
Manufacturers claim they’ll need tracking systems and label changes will increase costs to consumers. But they should already have systems to track where their products come from. Manufacturers often change packaging for marketing promotions — and many countries they export to demand CoOL — so we don’t buy the cost argument.
We believe consumers have a right to know where their food comes from so they can make informed choices. Our survey shows many consumers want to buy local produce. Some also want to reduce the food miles on the food they eat and avoid certain countries for ethical reasons such as workers’ rights.
The government has argued labelling is not a food safety issue because border controls already provide protection from unsafe products. But border controls aren’t foolproof. Venomous spiders found in imported Mexican grapes are one example.
GUIDE TO THE GRAPHS OUR DATA are from a nationally representative survey of 1066 New Zealanders, aged 18 years and older, and carried out online in February 2017. Figures may add to +/- 100% due to rounding. The margin of error is +/- 3.0%.
This information is available to Consumer members only.