FGC Chief Executive, Katherine Rich.
NZ Food and Grocery Council Chief Executive Katherine Rich.

The Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill proposes major problems for popular and basic parts of the family food budget, NZ Food and Grocery Council Chief Executive Katherine Rich said this week. Rich appeared before a parliamentary select committee hearing submissions on the bill.

“We absolutely support country of origin labelling on a voluntary basis and our members provide this information to consumers already.

“But expressing support for country of origin labelling and what is actually in this bill are two different things. We told the Select Committee today that had the bill stuck with fresh fruit and vegetables, it could have gained widespread industry support.

“But as drafted, it proposes problems for many basic staple foods, such as coffee (powdered and capsules), tea, sugar, flour, fish, meat, custard powder, pepper, cooking oils, oats, spices, baking soda, as well as some breakfast cereals.

“From time to time, many of these single-component products use ingredients from several sources, and keeping up with an ever-changing supply and labelling for every batch would be a huge, if not impossible, challenge for suppliers.

“Coffee is a good example. Beans are globally traded, with supply changing due to availability and price. A packet of instant coffee could have beans from 10 different countries but it’s blended to have the taste consumers expect.

“Maintaining segregation on a massive scale, or regularly re-labelling the origin of blends, would be a task where the costs would outweigh what shoppers want.

“New Zealand is a very small market, which makes New Zealand-specific labelling a costly option. There is also the prospect that global traders will by-pass us because of the cost of labelling, thereby reducing consumer choice and competition. Because of the unique definitions in the bill even products from other countries with clear country of origin labels might not comply.

“These products are captured at a time when voluntary labelling for the vast majority of them is working well and truthfully under consumer law. Many are not produced locally, or only seasonally, creating a minefield of cost through re-labelling and related compliance requirements that will eventually be passed to consumers.

“Though it seems most consumers are in favour of country of origin labelling for fresh fruit and vegetables, they may not be so keen if it raises the cost of tea, coffee, pepper, flour, and breakfast cereals,” says Rich.

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