Submission to Health Committee Requesting Mandatory Country of Origin Labelling of Single Item Foods
The Safe Food Campaign wholeheartedly supports the submission of Sue Kedgley and over 37,000 others asking for mandatory country of origin labelling on single food items. We want mandatory country of origin labelling so we can identify which country our food, such as meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, comes from. We also wish to support our own New Zealand producers, and avoid buying food from countries with a poor food safety record.
As consumers we believe very strongly that we have an absolute right to know where our food comes from, especially when there is a public health imperative occasioned by diseases such as BSE and chicken flu being present in some countries we import meat from. It should be our choice whether we eat food from those countries or not. However, the current situation does not give us this choice because while a few retailers supply labels of country of origin labelling, most do not.
As our market expands, New Zealanders are becoming increasingly aware that certain other countries do not exercise the same quality control that we might expect in New Zealand. American controls, for example, have uncovered sub standard imported products with excessive preservatives, illegal dyes, residues from hormones and pesticides not permitted or no longer used in this country, and microbial contamination. New Zealand is too small a country to spend significantly more money on extensive monitoring of imported food to guarantee its safety. It is more realistic to allow the market to rule by giving consumers the choice of which countries they choose to buy their food from.
For sensitive people, chief among them children, it may only take a small amount of a toxic substance to cause an untoward physical reaction. With inconsistent and unclear country of origin labelling such as now exists, the consumer may have to go to enormous lengths to be confident about lessening their risk and to exercise their right to choose. From our personal experience, most retail assistants do not know the country of origin when asked. With lack of mandatory labelling and subsequent lack of knowledge about the country of origin, an unscrupulous retailer may be tempted to mislead the consumer.
The Government's lack of support for mandatory country of origin labelling is inconsistent with its approach to other food labelling and also contrary to FSANZ's decision and international trends. Nutrition information, ingredient listing and GM labelling all give consumers information to enable a more informed choice. Internationally, the trend is to have complete traceability, 'from farm to fork', not only to give the consumer more information but also to enable an efficient recall for safety reasons if the need arises.
We therefore urge the Health Committee to recommend to the Government that mandatory country of origin labelling be carried out for single food items.
Andrea Palmer and Alison White, Safe Food Campaign
30 August 2008