Know your food

01 Jun 2018

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Consumer trend reports show that when consumers are asked to pay a premium price for their food, those consumers want to know why it’s worth it; namely, where and how that food was grown. But New Zealand law hasn’t quite caught up with this. 

In New Zealand, there is no requirement for fresh fruit and vegetables at point of sale to identify the country they were grown in. We are one of the few countries in the world where this is not a legal requirement. The paradox is that every major country we export to requires that our food identify where it is grown. Our growers and exporters proudly proclaim our country of origin overseas, as it generates premium prices for our high quality produce, but in New Zealand it’s a lottery. 

Thankfully, there is legislation before Parliament to change this for fresh fruit and vegetables, and this will hopefully allow consumers to know with certainty where their produce has been grown, and enable informed purchasing choices. However, when it comes to claims that produce has been grown and is certified to be organic, once again New Zealand is lagging behind the rest of the world. 

It is pleasing to note that the Ministry for Primary Industries is taking some action to fix this and has issued a consultation document. Once the consultation is finished, a decision will be made as to whether or not to regulate use of the term organic, and develop a true standard defining what ‘certified organic’ is. Once made law, the regulated organic national standard will cover produce exported out of New Zealand, produce grown and sold in New Zealand, and imported produce. To claim that your produce is organic, you will need to grow it meeting a series of requirements and, for the consumer to be certain that the grower has met these requirements, there needs to be an audit and certification process. Then consumers can buy organic produce and know, confidently, that it is what it says it is.

For growers who export organic produce, meeting this proposed national standard means that their produce can be accepted in the countries they are exporting to, through a process called equivalence. So as a grower, only the New Zealand standard needs to be satisfied to export to countries that have agreed that the New Zealand standard is equivalent to their own. For countries that do not have equivalence, the New Zealand based organic grower has to meet that country’s standard and be audited by their auditors – an expensive and time consuming process. Both consumers and growers will, therefore, benefit from this initiative, and I believe it should be supported. So please make a submission.

For further information, read the Ministry’s paper, Would New Zealand benefit from new organic regulation?It sets out the pros and cons of a series of options; most helpful is the diagram on page 19 and Appendix 1. 

If you want to make comment, send an email to organicsconsultation@mpi.govt.nz or complete our online submission form (Qualtrics) by 5 pm on 11 June 2018.

Both mandatory country of origin labelling and a regulated national standard for organics well empower consumers and provide certainty about where the produce they are buying has been grown and if it meets the national organic standard. It’s a natural step forward.

 

- Mike Chapman, CEO