New Zealanders want country of origin labelling on fruit and veges

09 Mar 2017

More than 70 percent of New Zealanders want mandatory Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) for fruit and vegetables, a joint Consumer NZ and Horticulture New Zealand survey shows.

“Seventy-one percent of New Zealanders want to know where their fresh, tinned, and frozen fruit and vegetables come from, and 70 percent also want to buy New Zealand-grown,” Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says. The survey showed only nine percent disagreed with mandatory CoOL.

“On behalf of our 5500 commercial fruit and vegetable growers, Horticulture New Zealand wanted to compile evidence to show the government the need to follow many other countries, including our nearest neighbour Australia, and have mandatory CoOL for fruit and vegetables.

“New Zealand law does not require the country of origin for fruit and vegetables to be disclosed to shoppers at the point of purchase. We want that to change. We hope the Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill before parliament is voted through to select committee, so New Zealanders can tell the government directly what they have told us in this survey,” Mr Chapman says.

Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin says the survey showed the voluntary system was not working.

“Of the 65 percent of people who looked for labelling information on fresh fruit, less than a third found it at all times. The numbers were similar for vegetable buyers.”

Ms Chetwin says the results confirm strong public support for labelling. “The majority of consumers think it should be mandatory for fruit and vege retailers to display country of origin information. The results send a clear message to political parties that the law needs to change,” she says.

Mr Chapman says the survey was nationally representative, conducted by a reputable organisation, and the results were clear.

“If you drill down, four out of five people buy fresh fruit and vegetables at least once a week, and most of them support mandatory CoOL,” he says.

Results of the survey can be found here.

The results have a margin of error of +/- 3.0% at the 95% confidence level. They are based on an online survey of 1066 New Zealand adults. Age, gender, and region quotas were used and statistical weighting was employed to ensure the sample’s composition the New Zealand population according to Census data.

 

ENDS

 

Questions and answers:

 

The survey

 

Who participated?

The field work for the survey took place between 7 and 19 February 2017; 1066 New Zealand adults were surveyed, aged 18 to 70-plus throughout New Zealand.

Most people lived in a suburban area (51%), followed by urban – in a central city area (29%), inner rural – in or within 5km of a rural town (13%), and outer rural – greater than 5km from a rural town (6%).

In describing their household situation, the highest number of respondents were a couple with a child, or children, living at home (33%), followed by a couple who had children who had all left home (17%), a couple with no children (16%), and single people living alone (13%).

People were asked where they mainly bought fruit and vegetables and 78% said from supermarkets, with the rest being from a local fruit and vege store (15%), local farmers’ market (3%), or other specialty store (4%).

 

Notes on the statistics:

Please note that not all percentages shown add up to 100%. This is due to rounding and/or questions that allow multiple responses (rather than a single response).

 

Horticulture New Zealand’s position on mandatory CoOL

 

Why does Horticulture New Zealand want mandatory CoOL?

Many other countries have mandatory CoOL. HortNZ believes New Zealand should follow suit on fruit and vegetables. As international trade in food products increases, the origin of food has become a critical consumer choice issue.

 

What’s wrong with voluntary CoOL?

A voluntary system deprives consumers of the information they want as it is at the discretion of the shop selling the fruit and vegetables to provide country of origin information.

This also means our food regulations are out of step with Australia and many of our trading partners.

It is inconsistent, has no rigour, no audit and no consumer assurance. It also allows many small retailers, hawkers and weekend market sellers to sell unlabelled produce.

 

What does the Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill have to do with this?

The Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill, is a Member’s Bill from the Green Party, introduced to the House on 8 December, 2016. Among other things, the Bill requires the country of origin of fruit and vegetables, and other single component foods, be clearly identified on labels or at the point of sale of the food. Horticulture New Zealand supports this stance. It would like to see the Bill voted through its first reading (possibly in March or April this year), to enable it to go through the select committee process where people can have a say and let the government know what they want.

Information about the Bill can be found here.

 

Consumer NZ’s position on mandatory CoOL

 

Why does Consumer NZ support CoOL?

We believe consumers have a right to know where their food comes from. The government argues it’s not a food safety issue because border controls provide protection from unsafe products. But border controls aren’t fool proof. Venomous spiders found in imported Mexican grapes are just one example. And health and safety is not the only issue. Some consumers want to support local producers and the local economy, reduce the food miles on the food they eat, and avoid certain countries for ethical reasons such as workers’ rights.

 

Isn’t it loading costs on to consumers?

Manufacturers claim they’ll need tracking systems and label changes will increase costs to consumers. But manufacturers already have systems to track where their products come from. McCain has a certificate of analysis for each delivery of vegetables. Countdown has a quality assurance programme to ensure its house brand products are fully traceable. Manufacturers often change packaging for marketing promotions – and many countries they export to demand CoOL.

 

What’s the situation now?

When we checked country of origin statements on frozen berries and veges at supermarkets, we found spinach and broccoli from China, mashed potatoes from Belgium and strawberries from Peru. However, of the 81 packets looked at, 17 had vague statements the product was made or packed in New Zealand from local and/or import ingredients or packed in New Zealand from imported ingredients. This means it was impossible to tell from the label where the food came from.

 

Australia has CoOL, why don’t we?

In 2005, the government opted out of joining Australia in mandating CoOL under the Food Standards Code on the grounds it would be an impediment to trade. The government and some big export players in the dairy and meat industry are opposed to CoOL. These groups believe a voluntary system, backed by the Fair Trading Act, is a better option.

 

Does the voluntary system work?

As our latest survey shows, consumers want a mandatory system applying to all retailers. A voluntary system means there’s no monitoring and enforcement, and consumers have a poor experience when they want to find out where their food comes from.

 

What happens next?

Consumer NZ will be encouraging political parties to support the Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill when it comes up for its first reading in parliament.