Want to know where your food comes from? Now's your chance to have your say (Photo: Getty Images)

What’s the deal with the country-of-origin food labelling bill?

A select committee has proposed limiting the kinds of products the Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill will apply to, and plenty of folk ain’t happy about it.

What’s the story?

Back in 2016, then Green MP Steffan Browning introduced a member’s bill that proposed mandatory country-of-origin labelling (CoOL) on all single-component foods. This would bring New Zealand in line with many other countries, including Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Wait, why don’t we already have it?

According to Consumer NZ, in 2005 the New Zealand government opted out of joining Australia in mandating CoOL on the grounds it would be an impediment to trade. So now we have a voluntary system.

Browning’s bill, which he passed on to Green MP Gareth Hughes after leaving parliament, made it to select committee stage in 2017. This was following a change of heart from then-in-power National, which decided to support the bill after initially opposing it.

The Primary Production Select Committee considered 401 submissions on the bill and released its interim report on 11 July, 2018, recommending some major amendments.

Oh yes, what do they want changed?

The committee has proposed the bill, which in its original form covered all single-component foods, be restricted to foods that are fresh or frozen (not dried, cured or pickled) and no more than minimally processed.

What’s the problem then?

Well, that means that things like bacon, tinned fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and grains and frozen crumbed fish fillets would be exempt.

Ah.

Yes. Currently, more than 60% of pork products consumed in New Zealand are imported from 20-plus countries, and when you narrow it down to bacon, the figure is more likely 80-90%.

Because brands aren’t required to state this on the label — and many say ‘manufactured in New Zealand’ if the product is processed here — there’s no way of truly knowing where a lot of bacon comes from. This means that growth hormones and antibiotics could have been used, and the pigs were likely raised in intensive factory-farming scenarios that wouldn’t meet New Zealand’s welfare standards.

It’s not just pork, either. When Consumer NZ checked the country-of-origin statements on 81 packets of frozen berries and veggies in a recent survey, 21% carried vague statements like “made or packed in New Zealand from local and/or imported ingredients”.

Seems like a bit of a cop-out, then?

You could say that. Browning, the original bill’s author, says the proposed changes “make a mockery of the intent of the bill”, and Consumer NZ says they “significantly weaken” it.

So why’d they do it?

Primary Production Select Committee chairman David Bennett told the Herald: “We just stuck to very much the basics. It’s just to get a starting point… that is a minimal cost to industry but achieves the purpose.”

Some large businesses and lobby groups opposed the bill in its original form, including Fonterra, Federated Farmers and the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council, stating fears over increased compliance and enforcement costs and a perceived risk to New Zealand’s trading position.

Do people actually care?

Well, a joint Consumer NZ and Horticulture NZ survey from 2017, which focused on fruit and veg, found that 71% of respondents supported mandatory CoOL on those products at least.

OK, but can people who care actually do anything?

Yes, they can make submissions on the proposed amendments to the bill until midnight on Wednesday, 1 August.


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Related:


The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.