Country of Origin Labelling
The Parliamentary Select Committee commences its hearings this week on the Green Party’s Private Members Bill, the Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill. This is a very quick turnaround, as submissions only closed last Thursday. You can read Horticulture New Zealand’s submission here.
Our focus is exclusively on fresh fruit and vegetables; the submission does not support the Bill going any further, such as requiring CoOL for processed food or other products. We are advocating mandatory country of origin labelling (CoOL) for fresh fruit and vegetables because this is what we know consumers want; Consumer NZ ran a survey in February of this year, which told us that New Zealand consumers want to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and they want to have the option to buy local and support local growers. To do this, consumers need to know where their fruit and vegetables are coming from, and to know that we need CoOL.
Opponents to this Bill have put forward a number of problems. Trade issues under the World Trade Organisation have been raised, and the answer here is how CoOL is implemented. There are no trade issues; if all countries are treated the same with the labelling requirement, there is no trade barrier, and all it provides is an even and equal playing field. It also bears mentioning that Australia, and the majority of the countries we trade with, already have some form of CoOL, and our exporters already have to meet these requirements.
The cost of labelling is another concern, but there is little or no increase in the cost of making sure labelling is correct. Our proposal is not to label fruit and vegetables individually, but to label the bins that loose fruit and vegetables are displayed in and, where there are presently labels, for those labels to include CoOL. The same would go for packaged products such as mixed salads: for the origin of the fruit and vegetables in the packet to be identified by their origin.
It is not expensive to label a bin of fruit or vegetables, or to change an existing label in this manner. Both the Commerce Commission and the Ministry for Primary Industries already undertake compliance with food safety standards and labelling, and this law will only serve to increase their effectiveness.
The concern has also been expressed that if fruit and vegetables have CoOL, then this means other products should have CoOL too. However, our survey said consumers want CoOL for fresh fruit and vegetables, and that is the beginning and end of our interest; if that becomes law, these are the only products that will require CoOL.
All we are doing is asking that consumers get what they want: fresh fruit and vegetables, and the ability to buy local if they so choose. Hopefully the Select Committee will agree.
- Mike Chapman, CEO