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Complaint over lack of foreign meat labelling

Kedgley lodges complaint over lack of foreign meat labelling

Green MP Sue Kedgley is lodging a complaint with the Commerce Commission today over imported meat, fish, and other fresh food being sold to New Zealand consumers without any indication of where it has come from.

Ms Kedgley, Green Consumer Affairs spokesperson, contends that the absence of country of origin labelling on fresh produce like meat and fish in New Zealand is misleading and deceptive and therefore breaches the Fair Trading Act.

Ms Kedgley said it was ironic that the Minister of Food Safety, Annette King, was flying to Australia today to oppose the introduction of country of origin labelling at a meeting of the Ministerial Council of Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

More than 30,000 tonnes of meat from China, Australia, South Korea, Canada and the United States is imported into New Zealand each year but most of it does not have country of origin labelling. Also unlabelled by country of origin is the $51.5 million worth of seafood including fish imported each year. And some of the $62.9 million worth of vegetables and $183.4 million worth of fruit imported each year does not have country of origin labelling.

Ms Kedgley argues in her complaint (see below) that, in the absence of a label declaring that produce has been produced in another country, most consumers would be misled into believing that they are purchasing New Zealand food.

"It is a basic consumer right to know what is in the food we eat and where it comes from," Ms Kedgley said. "It is frankly horrifying that the Minister of Food Safety is vehemently opposing this basic consumer right."

Ms Kedgley said it was particularly galling that the Minister had never consulted New Zealanders over this issue. "I call on the Minister to delay making a decision on mandatory country of origin labelling until such time as she has undertaken wide-ranging public consultation on the issue."

A Green party poll found that 96% of those surveyed support country of origin labelling. Ms Kedgley called on the Minister to produce a discussion document on country of origin labelling and hold meetings around New Zealand to solicit New Zealanders views. She said the Government should also conduct a nationwide survey on the issue before making any decision about it.

Sue Kedgley MP: 04 470 6728 or 027 270 9088 Ali Tocker (press secretary): 04 470 6723, 021 528 067

------------------------------------------------------------ 3rd April 2003

Fair Trading Act Enquiries Commerce Commission PO Box 2351 WELLINGTON

Dear Madam

Complaint Under The Fair Trading Act

I seek to make a complaint under Part I, paragraphs 9, 10,11, 12, and 13(a) and (b) of the Fair Trading Act relating to Misleading and Deceptive Conduct that selling imported food and produce without any indication as to where it has come from constitutes misleading and deceptive practice.

The aforementioned provisions of the Fair Trading Act stipulate that no person will engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive or falsely represent that goods are of a particular kind, standard, quality, grade, quantity, composition, style, or model or have had a particular history or particular previous use.

I submit that the absence of country of origin labelling on imported food produce, particularly on fresh produce such as meat, fish, fruit and vegetables that are commonly produced in New Zealand constitutes Misleading and Deceptive conduct, and as such, I seek a ruling from the Commission on this matter.

I submit further that, in the absence of a label declaring that produce has been produced in a country overseas, consumers may be misled into believing they are purchasing New Zealand produced food. The international food standard setting body Codex, has provisions relating to this matter and states, "the country of origin of the food shall be declared if its omission would mislead or deceive the consumer" (CODEX STAN 1-1985 (REV. 1-1991), paragraph 4.5.1.).

The lack of country of origin labelling, together with the ordinary person's assumption that fresh food such as meat and fish is likely to be produced in New Zealand, could lead the consumer to inadvertently make purchasing decisions contrary to their own values or concerns simply because of absence of information.

Not only does the absence of country of origin labelling on food that is produced overseas but also commonly produced in New Zealand constitute misleading behaviour, the possibility of significant differences in the manner of production between local and imported produce makes the situation even more deceptive.

For example, there is a significant difference in the treatment of New Zealand grown and Australian grown tomatoes, in that the later are flood-irrigated with the organophosphate insecticide dimethoate post-harvest, but New Zealand tomatoes are not. The use of this post-harvest treatment can result in residues of dimethoate in the tomatoes. Dimethoate has recently been placed on New Zealand's Environmental Risk Management's Priority list for reassessment because the UK Government has ceased to give approval to the registration of products containing this chemical. The presence of residues of this chemical, or the potential for residues, is therefore a matter of considerable importance to consumers.

The absence of country of labelling in this case is misleading because it makes it difficult for the consumer to know whether they are inadvertently buying/consuming tomatoes produced in this manner, and to make their decisions accordingly. Furthermore, to add to the confusion, some imported tomatoes are labelled as being Australian grown, others are not, further highlighting the deceptive nature of not providing across the board country of origin labelling. Tomatoes are produced in New Zealand hothouses all year round and the consumer has no way of identifying which are imported tomatoes unless the country of origin is clearly stated across the board.

Another major difference in production can be seen in imported pork from Australia. 30% of Australian farmers treat their pigs with a pig growth hormone, porcine somatropin. This practice, which has serious animal welfare implications for pigs, can result in residues of the hormone in pork and is considered so controversial in New Zealand that New Zealand pig farmers have voluntarily opted not to use it because of 'consumer concern.'

New Zealand consumers however, wishing to avoid purchasing or consuming Australian pork that may have been treated with this growth hormone, or for any other reasons, will continue to be mislead in the absence of comprehensive country of origin labelling.

In conclusion, I seek the Commerce Commission's ruling on whether the absence of country of origin labelling on imported food that is also widely produced within New Zealand, and which the ordinary consumer may therefore wrongly assume to be New Zealand produced, constitutes a misleading or deceptive practice.

Yours sincerely,

Sue Kedgley, MP

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