General policy statement
The purpose of this Bill is to enshrine in law consumers’ right to know the country from which the food they are purchasing originated so that they can make informed purchasing decisions. There is already a requirement to identify where footwear and clothing comes from, and this bill extends this requirement to fresh fruit, meat, fish, and vegetables, and other single component foods such as grains, nuts, bulk flour and oil.
The Bill requires that the country of origin of fruit, vegetables, meats, and seafood and other single component foods be clearly identified on labels or at the point of sale of the food. The Bill also requires the country of origin to be identified for single component foods such as bulk flour, grains, and nuts. Single component means that the food contains only one vegetable, fruit, meat, seafood, nut, grain, seed, or oil; although it may also contain water, sugar or its substitutes, salt, or other ingredients used in preserving, colouring or flavouring.
Point of sale labelling or signage is cheap and easy to provide, so there would be little or no additional cost in requiring labels or signs to be displayed for single component foods.
To guarantee consumers that country of origin labels are accurate and consistent, and are consistently applied across all food retail outlets, it is essential they are underpinned by a regulatory standard, and are mandatory rather than voluntary. In the absence of a regulatory standard, it would be difficult to ensure that unscrupulous or even just careless operators were not providing consumers with false or misleading information.
If labelling is voluntary rather than mandatory, retailers and manufacturers can use country of origin labels as a marketing tool, displaying labels when it is in their interests to do so, and failing to do so when it is not. This is why all other food labelling is mandatory, and underpinned by a regulatory standard (such as ingredients labelling and nutrition labelling).
Two major supermarket chains have introduced some voluntary country of origin labelling, however there are more than 1000 retailers selling fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables in New Zealand, and most do not label single component foods regarding their country of origin. Even in supermarkets, hundreds of single component foods are not labelled and there are many examples of misleading country of origin labels.
There are many reasons why consumers want to know which country their food comes from, and why consumers may wish to avoid consuming foods from certain countries. Some consumers want to support local producers and the local economy. Some are concerned about the adequacy of food safety standards in some countries we import food from. Some are concerned about the environmental and other costs of transporting food long distances. Some are concerned about the use of post harvest fumigation and other treatments on imported produce or the potential residues of pesticides and other contaminants in imported foods.
Many consumers assume, in the absence of country of origin labelling, that traditional foods such as meat, fruit, fish, and vegetables are produced in New Zealand. In this situation the lack of country of origin labelling can be regarded as misleading and deceptive. As more and more food is imported into New Zealand, accurate and consistent country of origin labelling is even more important for consumers.
The need for accurate food labelling that assists consumers to make informed purchasing decisions is recognised by all the major national and international food standard setting agencies including the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and the joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission.