IN spite of Australia changing its labeling requirements this month to detail more fully the source of prime ingredients in processed food, it seems unlikely that New Zealand will be faced with more stringent country of origin requirements – although the industry is closely watching the Australian situation

In New Zealand, the general opinion from government, the Ministry of Primary Industries and the Food & Grocery Council is that we should stick with the status quo because there seems no significant evidence – apart from Green Party persistence – that there is a problem to solve.

This may well be ignoring a tendency for consumers, if pressed, to want to know where the food they are eating comes from. But generally, unlike Australia, there has been no consumer pressure to produce origin information,

grown-in“The whole debate in New Zealand has really been superceded by extra information provided in-store or on pack by either retailers or manufacturers,” said FGC ceo Katherine Rich. “If there are gaps in the information, then those lobbying for a mandatory system here need to show us some evidence because as far as we are concerned, the information is already there.”

A number of processed food manufacturers already provide basic source information and a voluntary country of origin labeling system for fresh produce has been in place for years at retail level.

“I’ve heard some commentators pretend the information isn’t available in supermarkets, but that’s simply not true,” said Rich.

This is not quite the case in Australia where a recent consumer survey showed that perhaps as much as 60% of packaged supermarket product did not reveal where the ingredients were sourced. This research also noted that the top reason given for wanting the information was a desire to support local manufacturing and primary producers.

At the same time, this may well be an opportunity for New Zealand producers to voluntarily clarify predominant content at times of various label changes or label production runs rather than continuing with vague and confusing information – the changes do need to be clear and meaningful.