Submissions are now open on the Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill until May 18 – with backing from NZ Pork and Horticulture NZ.
It’s a simple recipe for success. The proof is in the market return from kiwifruit, cherries, apples, tomatoes and onions, and in Plant and Food Research’s world-leading breeding programmes matching new varieties with the Asian palate.
Although 60% of our fresh fruit and vegetables are exported, which enables horticulture’s value growth, the New Zealand domestic market remains a vital part of the industry’s success. The same formula for success abroad applies at home: give consumers what they want.
Earlier this year, Consumer NZ ran a statistically robust survey asking consumers about buying fresh fruit and vegetables (the results of this survey are available on the HortNZ website). The results were very interesting: about 20% of NZ consumers do not buy fresh fruit and vegetables each week, but 70% want to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and 72% want to know where their fresh fruit and vegetables come from.
When shopping, 66% look for country of origin labelling (CoOL) but they only regularly find this 32% of the time for fresh fruit and 29% of the time for fresh vegetables. 71% of respondents want mandatory CoOL for fresh fruit and vegetables; it is simply a matter of consumer choice.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand conducted a similar survey in 2005; the results are on their website. This survey found that 77% of NZers somewhat or strongly agree they trust the information on food labels, 70% of consumers in NZ used the nutrition information panel, and 65% used the ingredient list. Further to this, 42% of consumers looked for the types of sugars on the ingredient list, and 17% of consumers were interested in health claims.
But country of origin was the label element most commonly looked for -- by 72% of consumers.
The underlying reasons why mandatory CoOL is supported by consumers is that they want to have the option to buy fresh, local produce, and support NZ businesses when they can. What is required for this is to have all currently labelled fresh produce indicate country of origin, and for loose fresh produce to have the bin labelled.
Although there may be some cost in adjusting labels for what is currently labelled, this is a cost that is already included in exports, because virtually every country NZ exports fresh fruit and vegetables to requires some form of CoOL.
This minimal cost should not result in an increase in the price of fresh fruit and vegetables for consumers; after all, what is the cost of simply labelling a bin of fresh fruit and vegetables accurately with a sign explaining where the produce was grown?
The campaign for CoOL has recently gone up a level, with a Green Party sponsored private member’s bill being referred to the primary production select committee after its first reading. Submissions on this bill close on May 18, then the select committee will consider the bill and, after the general election, report back to Parliament.
Horticulture NZ has also created a Facebook page called ‘Country of Origin Labelling NZ’. If you support CoOL, please ‘like’ this page and send an email to your MP stating your support for mandatory CoOL for fresh fruit and vegetables, and asking for their stance on the issue.
We have a long way to go before mandatory CoOL for fresh fruit and vegetables becomes law in NZ. We need to ensure that what consumers want becomes law, and we can only do that with your support. So make a submission on the Green Party’s bill and ‘like’ the ‘Country of Origin Labelling NZ’ Facebook page. After all, consumers know best.
• Mike Chapman is chief executive of Horticulture New Zealand