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Alan Emerson

Mandatory Country of Origin Food Labelling

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I remain confused as to why New Zealand doesn’t have mandatory Country of Origin Labelling on food.

The first responsibility of a government, any government is the welfare of its citizens and Country of Origin Labelling does just that.

It is also logical. We have a right to know where our food comes from. We should also have the option of being able to support our local producers.

Without Country of Origin Labelling we can’t do that.

The situation is somewhat ridiculous as that law dictates that I know where my clothing and footwear comes from but not my food.

In addition 70% of Kiwis want Country or Origin labelling. Only nine percent, an extremely small number doesn’t for whatever reason.

So my question is to ask why we have had so much obfuscation from government on CoOL and for so long.

I can remember back when the normally up front Nikki Kaye was minister. She told us that it wasn’t needed because we basically had a de facto CoOL.

Sorry Ms Kaye, we don’t.

It seems to me that we have an entrenched bureaucracy lambasting politicians that CoOL is a barrier to trade and effects our WTO obligations. They have never offered me a detailed explanation as to why that is but it seems to have become a mantra of the grey cardy brigade.

Sadly, it seems, politicians haven’t been willing or able to stand up to those faceless leaders of the establishment and growers, supermarkets and consumers are suffering for it.

Why they don’t ask the simple questions as to how CoOL is a barrier to trade and why it will affect any WTO obligations is beyond me.

They could ask why labelling clothing and footwear isn’t a barrier to trade but that labelling food is.

After all the vast majority of our trading partners and certainly all of the significant players have mandatory food labelling.

The arguments against just don’t stand up and it is an indictment on our politicians that they haven’t harshly questioned the bureaucracy’s position.

For example Canada started country of origin labelling back in 1990 followed by the United States in 2002. Their scheme was expanded in 2008.

Australia and the EC have had labelling for some considerable time as have India, China Japan and Russia amongst other countries. A total of 47 countries have country of origin labelling and that includes all of our major trading partners.

That New Zealand doesn’t label puts us in the company of Estonia, Guatemala and Latvia which is ridiculous.

I’m sure we’d like to think that we’re a little better than third world when it comes to food safety but in this instance we’re not.

It is important because in 2010 we imported $three billion worth of food.

A large portion of the pork sold here is imported which is why I will only buy it from the Masterton butcher who sources it locally.

In addition we imported $31 million of fish which I have a real issue with.

If you’re in Australia fish is labelled as coming from Vietnam, Ghana, Nigeria and the like so you can make an informed choice. Here we can’t.

A simple question is to ask ‘why can’t we’?

We have some hope in the form of a Private Members Bill from the Green MP, Steffan Browning, the ‘Consumers Right to Know Country of Origin Food Bill’.

Why we needed a private members bill is beyond me but Steffan Browning is to be congratulated for pushing the cause.

So where to from here?

In the past we’ve had vitriolic opposition from the Food and Grocery Council and currently they’ve been quiet.

Their argument about increased costs has been largely dispelled by their membership.

Federated Farmers have also opposed CoOL in the past but with their current board I would anticipate a more enlightened approach.

The Greens will obviously support it. Labour has promoted CoOL for some years.

That leaves National, New Zealand First, Act, and the Maori Party.

New Zealand First is supporting the Bill as is the Maori Party.

To get over the line it needed one more vote.

My hope was that National would bite the bullet, ignore the weeping and wailing from the Food and Grocery Council and support the Bill to a Select Committee.

That National have now done that is welcome but begs the question as to why all the weeping wailing and obfuscation over the last nine years.

With 70% of the nation supporting Country of Origin Labelling that message has obviously got through. Thank heavens for elections.

It is the right thing to do.

We deserve to know where our food comes from.

It is to Steffan Browning’s credit that he has persevered to get the legislation thus far. Here’s sincerely hoping it goes the whole way.