In NZ, manufacturers don’t have to state where ingredients come from. Is that a problem?
A storm erupted in New Zealand in late August 2007 regarding country-of-origin labelling. Talk-back lines and TV and newspaper coverage ran hot with the response to news that ingredients from all over the world are included
in NZ-branded products, and there is no requirement for labels to say where ingredients come from.
And a surprising amount of the food items on our shelves are made from ingredients sourced overseas. For example, many well-known peanut butters come from China; much canned fruit and vegetables are Chinese or European; 40% of pork comes from overseas.
Country-of-origin labelling is mandatory in many countries around the world, including Australia. But here in NZ it isn’t; in late 2005 the Government announced it would not implement Food Standard Australia New Zealand’s
(FSANZ) standard for mandatory country-of-origin labelling (CoOL) of food, despite the Australian government adopting it.
What’s the problem with that?
Not knowing where our food comes from makes it hard to make an informed choice.
Those of us who are keen to support local producers may have no way of knowing whether or not our favourite products are actually made from local ingredients.
Other countries have different growing practices, regulations and safety standards. For example, in NZ pork growers have a voluntary policy not to use growth hormones, but these are used in some of Australia’s pork production, and with no labelling on imported pork we have no way of knowing if we’re buying Aussie pork or not (except to look for a ‘100% NZ pork’ label).
What can we do?
- Use your power as a consumer. Just because manufacturers don’t have to tell us where ingredients come from, doesn’t mean they can’t. Phone the manufacturer of your favourite products and ask where the ingredients come from, and ask them to put it on the label. The more of us who ask, the more they’ll take notice!
- Support local producers who do take the trouble to give us good information.
- Write or email your MP asking for their support of mandatory country-of-origin labelling.
What do Kiwis think about all this?
We ran an email survey to see whether Healthy Food Guide readers were concerned about this issue. We received over 2,000 emails in a couple of days. Here’s what you thought:
- Most Kiwis support mandatory country-of-origin labelling. 91% said they would like to see this on food products.
- However, in response to the question: “If you found that the ingredients in a favourite locally-branded product came from overseas, would you still buy that product?”, only 20% said no, 70% said it would depend on the
- Reasons given for choosing local over imported were mostly concerns about food safety and additives. We also like to support local producers where possible.
These results reflect our realistic attitudes towards the food we buy. We want to know where products come from but are not necessarily going to reject all imported products. We just want the opportunity to make informed choices.
So what about the manufacturers?
In response to recent coverage, food manufacturers and retailers have taken their customers’ concerns on-board.
Foodstuffs announced it is introducing country-of-origin information for all the fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood sold in its PAK’n SAVE, New World, Write Price, Shop Rite supermarkets and Four Square stores throughout the country, by December.
And Sanitarium has announced plans to reintroduce its Australian-made peanut butter as an alternative alongside the Chinese-made version.