South Canterbury MPs at odds over palm oil labelling

Food Safety Minister Jo Goodhew.

Food Safety Minister Jo Goodhew.

South Canterbury's two MPs are at loggerheads over mandatory palm oil labelling.

Ministers from Australia and New Zealand will vote this month over whether food product labels should have to disclose if they contain palm oil.

The issue has been a contentious one in New Zealand, with conservation advocates saying its production is responsible for intensive deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Green MP Mojo Mathers.

Green MP Mojo Mathers.

However, Food Safety Minister and Rangitata MP Jo Goodhew has come under fire after declining to say how she will vote.

Green Party MP Mojo Mathers, who has announced she will contest the Rangitata seat in next year's general election, has criticised Goodhew's position.

"There is absolutely no reason why the minister should be withholding from New Zealanders how she is going to vote. It's just bizarre," Mathers said.

"New Zealanders have a right to know what is in their food – this vote is critical to ensuring we get that information."

Goodhew said under current labelling standards, palm oil could be labelled using a generic term such as "vegetable oil" because it did not pose a food safety risk.

"This focus on health and safety information rather than ethical concerns helps avoid overly complex regulatory standards," she said.

An independent review of labelling, commissioned by the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation was conducted in 2011.

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Recommendation 12 of that review recommended that where the terms "added fats" and "added vegetable oils" were used in the ingredient list of a food, they should be followed by a list describing the source of the fat or oil.

The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation endorsed recommendation 12, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand was carrying out a technical evaluation and providing advice to help ministers consider the expected benefits and possible effects before considering any changes to the Food Standards Code, Goodhew said.

That work was nearing completion and was expected to be provided to ministers in late 2016, she said.

"Ministers will decide on the next steps and whether any further action should occur. Unfortunately, this work may not be ready in time to be considered at the forum meeting scheduled for late November.

"I'm unable to say which way New Zealand will vote until we have seen the technical evaluation to understand the possible impacts of it, before we make a decision about how we will vote. But I want to be clear that we have been pushing hard for clearer labelling for vegetable oils, and will continue to do so."

Mathers said thousands of New Zealanders had taken part in campaigns over the palm oil issue.

"All the way back in 2009, there was a huge public outcry when it was revealed that Cadbury chocolate used palm oil. New Zealanders care about this even more since then.

"Europe, Canada and the US all have labelling rules that mean people know what oils, including palm oil, are in their products. New Zealanders deserve that information too."

Goodhew was representing all New Zealanders, so she needed to "front up and tell us all how she is planning on voting on our behalf", she said.

Goodhew said labelling for ethical reasons could be initiated by an industry in response to consumer demands, such as voluntary palm oil labelling for environmental concerns.

All such claims in New Zealand were required to comply with consumer law and could not be misleading or give false information, she said.

 - Stuff


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