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Food For Thought: Food for Thought


Food For Thought - From Sue Kedgley

Join the Country of Origin labelling (CoOL) campaign

The Government in the next few weeks will decide whether or not to introduce mandatory country of origin labelling in New Zealand. We want to generate a campaign to let the Government know consumers are interested in knowing where their food comes from and want to be consulted first, before the proposal gets turned down (as seems highly likely).

The Green Party believes that it is a basic consumer right to know what is in our food and where it comes from. Despite most countries already having mandatory country of origin labelling or CoOL, in NZ at present, only wine and cheese are required to bear labels citing their country of origin.

Australia by comparison, already has mandatory CoOL, and despite NZ being in a joint Australia / NZ food standard agreement, our Government has been vehemently fighting any move to introduce CoOL. In an official paper to the trans-Tasman body that will decide whether we should introduce CoOL or not, the Government stated “there is virtually no consumer demand for this information in New Zealand”.

This is bizarre given that research carried out two years ago for the Food Standards Australia New Zealand, (FSANZ, formerly known as ANZFA), showed that New Zealand consumers want to know where their food comes from and are in support of CoOL.

The Green Party is calling for a wide-ranging public debate about CoOL, including a nationwide survey, before the Government makes a decision whether to introduce CoOL or not.

HAVE YOUR SAY

We believe that there should be mandatory country of origin labelling.

What do you think?

If you have access to the Internet, you can vote in our poll on the following web page: www.greens.org.nz/polls

We encourage you to free post (c/o Parliament Buildings Wellington) or email your views to the Minister of Food Safety, Annette King: Annette.King@parliament.govt.nz and the Prime Minister: Helen.Clark@parliament.govt.nz You can also telephone/fax or email your local MP, write a letter to your local paper or ring your local radio station.

WHY DO WE WANT CoOL FOOD?

Consumers are entitled to know where their food comes from. They might want to avoid meat from certain countries, for example, because of BSE (also known as mad cow disease). Or they might want to support our local farmers and growers, thereby keeping money in our country. Buying local food also reduces FOOD MILES, which is the distance our food has to travel from producer to plate. We can also avoid some of the contaminants that are present in foreign food but not in ours, such as the fumigant methyl bromide – one of the most ozone depleting substances ever invented.

Take for example, the Australian tomatoes that appear on our supermarket shelves every winter. Fruitfly is rife in Australia (but luckily not in New Zealand), so Australian tomatoes are dipped after they have been picked in a toxic organophosphate insecticide called dimethoate.

This insecticide is designed to permeate the skin of the tomato so it can kill any fruitfly larvae that may have burrowed into the flesh of the tomato. Not only can this insecticide last for long periods in stored foods, it is almost impossible to wash off.

Dimethoate is a highly toxic organophosphate insecticide that has been found to disrupt reproductive function, cause chromosomal aberrations, damage the immune system, disrupt the endocrine system and affect the nervous system.

Yet there is no requirement that these tomatoes are labelled to identify that they come from Australia, so consumers can avoid buying them.

ERMA has recently put dimethoate on its priority list for reassessment of risk, after it received advice from the UK Government that it had suspended approvals for this chemical. (ERMA is NZ’s Environmental Risk Management Authority).

The Greens believe that consumers must be given the choice to avoid these tomatoes, and any other imported food, and the only way to do so is to enforce mandatory country of origin labelling.

WHERE DOES OUR MEAT COME FROM?

Most Kiwis assume that the meat we buy in our local supermarket comes from New Zealand.

Think again!

Buying meat at the supermarket is actually a bit like playing ‘lucky dip’. According to Statistics NZ, last year NZ imported 9,204 tonnes of beef and veal, 953 tonnes of mutton, 2,078 tonnes of lamb and 16,862 tonnes of pork.

Imported pork for example, comes from countries such as China, Canada and Australia as carcass meat, and is then processed into meat products such as ham, salami, sausages and bacon. A quick glance through the supermarket however, will not reveal a single label to show where the meat is from.

Not only do these processed meat products not declare that the pork they contain comes from other countries; many of them proclaim they are “manufactured in New Zealand” implying that the product is made with New Zealand meat.

Don’t you feel as though you have been deceived?

To protest this misleading and deceptive practice, I have decided to lodge a complaint under the Fair Trading Act. As the international food standards-setting body Codex acknowledges, the absence of a label can be just as deceptive as an incorrect label.

Not only is there no requirement in NZ to declare the country of origin of our food, there is also a worrying lack of tests conducted on the foreign flesh flooding our markets. In a recent question to the Minster of Food Safety, Annette King, I asked whether imported meat was tested to see if it contained any residues of antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides or other chemicals. Ms King replied that no such tests are carried out.

Considering that foreign raised meat can be fed hormones and drugs banned in NZ, this is alarming news. In Australia for example, 30% of pork farmers use a pig growth hormone that is not used in NZ and there are more that 650 accredited feedlots where more that 25% of Australian adult cows are fattened up.

Feedlots are vast, concrete-floored pens where cattle are fed grain-intensive diets, often mixed with hormonal growth promotants and antibiotics to avoid the infectious diseases that routinely sweep through. Because large numbers of cattle are kept in such close proximity, fly infestations are common, and beef producers regularly spray feedlots with toxic insecticides.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Buying NZ Meat

At the moment, the only way you can be certain your meat is from NZ is to buy organic or choose the packets of meat that are marked with the Quality Mark, Trim Pork and NZ Pork labels.

Quality Mark beef is guaranteed to be free from growth promotants, and a new declaration is about to be introduced by the Pork Industry which will guarantee NZ pork is free from the growth hormone PST, recombinant porcine somatropin.

You can also put pressure on your local retailer to reveal the country of origin of meat, and join the CoOL campaign (see page 1). Every time you buy meat you should demand to know where it is from.

ANYONE FOR IRRADIATED FRUIT?

Food Safety Minister Annette King has agreed to a proposal by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) to allow irradiated Australian tropical fruit onto the New Zealand market; mangoes, pawpaw, litchi, breadfruit, carambola, custard apples, longan, mangosteen and rambutan.

The odd thing is that there is absolutely no need to import irradiated tropical fruit from fruitfly-infested Australia because we can get all the tropical fruit we need from other places such as the South Pacific and South America, that don’t irradiate their tropical fruit. It makes no sense to import tropical fruit that poses both a health and biosecurity risk, when we have safer options available.

Of course, there won’t be any labels on the Australian imports saying: ‘Danger! Irradiated Fruit’, or a Surgeon General’s Warning proclaiming that this fruit may damage your health. In fact, the label won’t need to mention that the fruit has been irradiated at all, but only that it has been treated with ‘ionising electrons’!

The Government is also trying to remove any limits on the dose of irradiation that can be applied to food. It is working with USA and Australia at a Codex meeting from 17-21 March to try to amend the food irradiation standard so there is no maximum dose level (at present it is 10kGy [kiloGray]). If they succeed, food producers will be free to irradiate our food as much as they like with no questions asked.

Fortunately, the European Union is opposing their moves and calling for a precautionary approach in the face of increasing scientific concern about the health effects of eating irradiated food. The need for caution has been strengthened by a three-year French/German study, published in 2001, which found chemicals formed during irradiation may cause colon cancer and DNA damage. The chemicals formed during the irradiation process are called 2-alkylcyclobutanones (2-ACBs), and are found in irradiated foods containing fat. These include beef, chicken, eggs, cheese and certain fruits such as avocado, mango and pawpaw.

The World Health Organisation has called for more studies on the toxicity of cyclobutanones but Australia, New Zealand and the USA seem hell-bent on ploughing ahead with this highly controversial technology regardless. Consumer groups such as Public Citizen and Centre for Food Safety in America where irradiation is rife, are leading a campaign against irradiated foods, and have submitted evidence to the Food and Drug Administration that animals fed irradiated food suffer premature death, mutations and other generic abnormalities, foetal death and other reproductive problems, immune system disorders, organ damage, stunted growth and nutritional deficiencies.

WHAT IS IRRADIATION?

Irradiation is an unnecessary and controversial technology that disguises food contamination and leads to slacker hygiene standards. Irradiation is a physical treatment of food with high-energy, ionising radiation that exposes food to radiation doses 100,000 to 3-million times the strength of a chest x-ray. It can reduce the nutritional value of food by partially destroying vitamins C, A, E and thiamine, along with fatty acids crucial for good health. It can also cause the formation of carcinogenic and mutagenic chemicals. There have been no long-term studies of the health effects of consuming irradiated food.

It’s hardly a mouth-watering prospect!

The Green Party is completely opposed to food irradiation in New Zealand, and intends to lead a boycott on any irradiated fruit that makes its appearance on the NZ market.

Government Gives G.e. Go - ahead

The Government has recently announced a series of proposed amendments to the law that will allow the commercial release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment, when the moratorium expires in October this year. In doing so, the Government is essentially steamrolling a pro-GE legislative path for biotech companies, GE farmers and researchers.

The Government’s proposed new laws on legal liability for when GE goes wrong are so weak as to be laughable. Producers will not be liable for any environmental disaster caused by GE providing they follow Government regulations. Government regulations however are no protection against unintended consequences, particularly relevant given the unpredictable nature of GE.

Frankly, the proposed changes are little more than a regulatory facade, offering minimal justice. The Government will use the new legislation to argue that we have a strict regulatory regime, when in fact it’s a weak regime that offers very little protection. It will be a delight for lawyers, and protracted court cases are inevitable.

In our view, there should be strict liability for any harm caused by a GE crop or animal even if those responsible haven’t broken the law. After all, if producers believe GE is safe, let them shoulder the risk.

Drug resistance spreading

Routinely feeding antibiotics to millions of NZ farm animals could have potentially fatal effects on human health, according to local scientists who want the practice stopped.

I invited four microbiologists to speak at Parliament on the danger of creating super-bugs that are resistant to most antibiotics.

Otago University environmental microbiologist Greg Cook warned that feeding antibiotics to chickens is creating large reservoirs of drug-resistant bacteria in chickens that could spread to humans via the food chain.

His latest research of 100 poultry farms throughout NZ found that 50% of the chicken flocks he has tested have vancomycin–resistant enterococcus faecalis (VRE), a well-known superbug that is resistant to vancomycin, the antibiotic of last resort!

VRE bacteria is also found in humans. The great concern is that if it passes to the superbug MRSA, prevalent in our community and our hospitals, we will have untreatable illness on our hands.

The Green Party is calling on the Government to ban the practice of routinely feeding antibiotics to animals which are not sick, especially antibiotics that are also used for humans.

Update on Nitrofurans

In my last newsletter I talked about nitrofuran - a drug that has been banned in Europe and the USA but is administered to poultry in NZ.

Nitrofuran antibiotics have been banned overseas because they are carcinogenic. The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry (MAF) advises NZ farmers not to use them on animals where the meat is destined for the export market because any residues found in meat can result in a major food recall.

The Government isn’t concerned about the residues in meat bound for Kiwi consumers, however, and the nitrofuran drug furazolidone continues to be used in NZ by the poultry industry.

While its been hard to prise any information out of the Government on this issue, it seems that no imported meat is tested for nitrofuran residues and no domestic meat is being tested this year either.

In other years when it has been tested, the results were not made public because they are owned by the industry! This is outrageous when we are talking about a drug that Europe considers so dangerous; there are NO safe levels of residues permitted.

I will continue to question the Government on the use of nitrofurans in NZ until nitrofuran antibiotics are banned in this country, and imported meat is tested for residues of veterinary drugs.

Obesity Symposium

It was a case of proverbial pigs protecting their trough at a symposium on Obesity and Children: Possible Causes, Possible Solutions held at the Beehive last week. Although Associate Health Minister Damien O’Connor hosted the talk, the Advertising Standards Authority funded it.

As predicted, the conference turned out to be a thinly-veiled attempt by the advertising industry to lobby the Government against imposing regulations on junk food advertising in children’s television viewing times, with so-called “independent” international experts railing against any controls on junk food advertising.

Damien O’Connor acknowledged that obesity is a major public health issue, on a par with smoking. He referred to a recent survey of children aged 5 to 11 years, which found that over 14 per cent were obese, and said “inaction on obesity is not an option. We've gone past that”. He acknowledged that food advertising accounts for 25 to 40 per cent of advertisements during children's viewing times on television, and the kinds of food advertised are predominately those high in fat, sugar and salt.

The floor was then opened to a series of speakers such as TVNZ chief Ian Fraser who seemed more intent on protecting the interests of advertisers and the fast food industry than finding ways to help obese kids.

I have raised questions in the House about whether it is appropriate for the chief executive of TVNZ to be defending television fast food advertising, when the TVNZ Charter says TVNZ must ‘exhibit a sense of social responsibility to the community’.

G.E. Food labelling- Europe

The European Union is poised to introduce an extensive new labelling regime for GE food products which will label all GE ingredients.

It will extend the labelling that already covers food containing DNA or protein from GE organisms, to cover all food derived from GE processes, regardless of whether or not there is any detectable DNA remaining.

It will lower the threshold of permitted accidental contamination that does not need to be labelled to 0.9 per cent, but only if the producer can show that the contamination was unavoidable.

This new labelling will apply to animal feed as well as human food.

The Green Party believes that the NZ Government should adopt the same labelling regime for NZ, including all animal feed.

The need for food labelling was highlighted by the recent arrival of a container load of US-sourced GE soy understood to be destined for chicken feed. Companies continue to import GE soy despite consumer concerns. They should follow the lead of Tegel, which has gone to considerable lengths to establish a non- GE food supply. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:

Dear Ms Kedgley, I am deeply concerned about the number of foods which now have MSG added to their products. MSG has many unpleasant, sometimes dangerous, side effects on a great many people - including fits, severe allergy attacks and palpitations - these are cases I know of. I have to watch the labels very carefully, as if I accidentally eat any I shake and my skins burns over most of my body.

Nearly all hams and small goods at my local supermarket use it, also their marinated meats. It makes it very difficult for a person living on their own as it is almost impossible to buy a prepared meal which is free of it - the gravy mixes have it and nearly all the foods in the freezers.

I am writing to you as you so strongly put any case forward where you feel there is a health hazard or a harm to animals, and I do hope that a law will be passed to stop this quite unnecessary and sometimes dangerous additive being added to our foods.

Sincerely, Beth Sharp Waikanae

(Abridged)

Sue replies: I agree - MSG should be banned. At the very least however, any goods containing this chemical should be very clearly labelled as such. At the moment, all our FSANZ standards require is for packets to carry the number 622. How many people can remember that, along with all the other numbers of additives and chemicals when they go shopping?

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