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Voluntary food labelling open to voluntary opt-out

23 June 2009

Voluntary food labelling open to voluntary opt-out

New Zealanders will continue to be denied the right to know where their food comes from if the Government relies on voluntary country of origin labelling, said Green Party MP Sue Kedgley.

The Government has announced it is working on a scheme with retailers and manufacturers whereby they can choose to label single-ingredient foods such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Consumer Affairs Minister Heather Roy is responsible for co-ordinating this voluntary scheme.

“This scheme won’t guarantee consumers the right to know where their food comes from, as any voluntary system will be just that – voluntary,” said Ms Kedgley.

“There are more than 1000 retailers selling meat, fresh fruit and vegetables in New Zealand. Many retailers will likely ignore a voluntary scheme and fail to disclose where produce comes from.”

“We already have voluntary labelling, but there are still hundreds of single ingredient foods that are not labelled as to their country of origin, so consumers remain in the dark as to the origin of their purchases.”

“I intend raising the issue of consumers right to know where their food comes from with Mrs Roy,” said Ms Kedgley.

“New Zealand is lagging behind the rest of the world on country of origin labelling. Most countries, including New Zealand’s major trading partners the United States, Japan and the EU, have mandatory labelling for fresh foodstuffs – why can’t New Zealand?

New Zealand doesn’t have a legal definition of made in New Zealand or product of New Zealand, so consumers cannot even be certain what these statements mean.

Ms Kedgley said all other forms of food labelling systems, such as the ingredients label and the nutrition label, were mandatory and underpinned by regulation, to ensure that claims were fair and accurate, and to ensure consumer confidence in the labelling system.

The Prime Minister John Key stated publicly, prior to the election, that he considers ‘consumers have a right to as much information as is practically possible’ and that country of origin labelling is ‘simple’ and ‘should be occurring’.

The only drawback Mr Key foresaw with providing customers with information showing where their food came from was that some foods contain many different ingredients. Despite this drawback, Mr Key also stated he wanted to ‘advance the level of information flow.’

“Working on a scheme to label food voluntarily is not likely to ‘advance the level of information flow’ – a goal of the Prime Minister,” said Ms Kedgley.

ENDS

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