NZ grocery consumers would be “worse off” if not for new labelling bill recommendations

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

A survey found that consumers in New Zealand are in favour of a mandatory country of origin labelling for food products. ©Getty Images
A survey found that consumers in New Zealand are in favour of a mandatory country of origin labelling for food products. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Food labelling, Supply chain, New zealand

Grocery prices would rise and consumers would be “worse off” if not for the recommendations to revise the Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill, Katherine Rich, CEO of New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (NZFGC) said.

In response to FoodNavigator-Asia’s​ queries, she argued that the original bill would lead to “higher grocery prices and lesser consumer choice”​, as it is “not worth doing a separate stock keeping unit (SKU)”​ exclusive to the New Zealand market.

She described that the new recommendations have significantly improved the Bill”​, which was “unworkable the way it was first drafted.”

“With the original bill, the instant coffee manufacturers that source coffee beans from all over the world and blend them would have had to change their labels every week just for a tiny market like New Zealand,”​ she said.  

This is because a packet of coffee usually contains beans originating from many countries and “keeping up with an ever-changing global supply and labelling for every batch of coffee, would be a huge, if not impossible challenge for suppliers,” ​an explanation which she had offered in an opinion piece earlier on.  

“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... There would be major additional supply chain costs.”

The Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill​ was first introduced in 2016, to “provide a mandatory labelling system that provides consumers with accurate information about the country of origin of ‘single component’ foods to enable them to make informed food purchasing decisions.”

It went through the first parliamentary reading in last April and would be due by the August 29.

Meanwhile, a primary production select committee was convened to gather information and recommend changes to the bill.

Recommendations

In a report​ released on  July 11, the select committee has proposed that the country of origin labelling would only be applicable for foods that are: 1) only one type of fresh or frozen fruit, vegetable, meat, fish or seafood, 2) are fresh or frozen, 3) are no more than minimally processed, and 4) are packaged or unpackaged.

It also recommended that food retailers both in-store and online abide by the bill.

The recommendations were a departure from the original bill, as it excluded nuts, seeds, grains, tinned fruit and vegetables, mixed frozen vegetables, crumbled fish fillet, marinated meats, dried fruit, and cured meats, attracting backlash from certain entities.

Jessica Wilson, head of research at Consumer NZ told local media Stuff that the primary production select committee had “significantly watered down” ​the original bill.

Rich responded that the campaign group “does not have an understanding of the complexities of food manufacturing of multi-ingredient foods.”

“The irony is that had the bill been passed as drafted, consumers would be worse off because of higher grocery prices and less choice due to the fact that it’s not worth doing a separate SKU for New Zealand, a market smaller than most cities.”

Public submissions

The NZFGC is currently compiling submission from members to the select committee for review, Rich told us.

Food giant Fonterra and Danone were some of the companies that have already submitted entries to the committee.

Public submissions are due by August 1, which is in less than a week’s time.

After which, the house would debate on the select committee report and vote on the bill.

According to a survey​ conducted by Consumer NZ and Horticulture New Zealand last year, 71% of New Zealanders were in favour of a mandatory country of origin labelling for fruit and vegetables.

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