Labour not budging on food origin labelling

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009

The Consumers Institute, Pork Industry Board, Horticulture New Zealand, and the Manufacturers and Exporters Association are the latest to back a proposal that would lead to compulsory labelling on food, including fresh fruit, vegetables and meat.

They say people should know where their food is coming from so they can support New Zealand-made products.

Green MP Sue Kedgley took a 39,000-signature petition to Parliament on December 6. She said it showed overwhelming support from the public and consumer groups.

But in a briefing to new Food Safety Minister Lianne Dalziel, the Food Safety Authority says it is "not a food-safety issue" and would cost too much to impose.

The document says: "NZFSA does not consider there to be strong grounds for revising the existing government policy on [origin labelling] for all food."

Ms Dalziel stands by the decision, saying "our existing labelling requirements ensure consumers have the information they need relating to food safety and public health".

"We don't think the New Zealand consumer or local businesses should have to foot the bill for information that serves no useful purpose."

Safe Food Campaign co-convenor Alison White said that argument was spurious.

Research showed some imported foods were unsafe, including Australian-grown tomatoes, which are doused with the highly toxic insecticide dimethoate.

"The NZFSA says one of its aims is protecting consumers' interests and we would argue it's not fulfilling that. Consumers want to be informed, they want to make a choice, so that if they want they can avoid products with a poor safety record."

In 2005, the Government opted out of a joint trans-Tasman proposal to make country-of-origin labelling mandatory.

It was adopted by Australia which now has unpackaged goods, like seafood and fruit, and packaged goods carrying "made in ..." or "product of ..." labels. Such labelling in New Zealand is voluntary.

Ms Kedgley said it was a basic democratic right for consumers to know where their food came from. "The Government is being held hostage by a couple of industries, namely the meat and dairy industries."

Consumer Affairs Minister Judith Tizard said though it was desirable for consumers to have more information, the cost would be too great.

"My concern is New Zealanders have healthy, good, nutritious food that is affordable."

 

- The Dominion Post

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