Reputable grocery stores not involved in sulphite findings

Press release 25/09/2013

Fresh meat sold by the mainstream grocery sector is not involved in positive tests for added sulphites, as indicated in a news report, says Food & Grocery Council Chief Executive Katherine Rich.

Last night, TV One ran a lead news item that ‘food safety experts are testing fresh meat sold in supermarkets and butcheries for a banned food preservative’ in contravention of the requirements of the Australia/New Zealand Food Code.

Mrs Rich says this statement created a misleading impression that this flouting of food rules is a mainstream issue for the grocery sector and involves the major supermarkets and other reputable stores.

“This is a completely false impression, and the Ministry for Primary Industries has made it clear today that such reputable stores, where most New Zealanders do their shopping and source their meat, are not involved.

“This is not a widespread issue by any definition.

“MPI has also confirmed to FGC that the claim that all of the samples collected by them tested positive is not correct, and that there are many more still to be tested.”

Mrs Rich also said that, contrary to the report, sulphites are not a “banned” substance in the food industry, either in New Zealand or anywhere around the world.

“Sulphites are a naturally occurring substance in some foods and the human body, but are regulated when they are used as food additives. They play an important role when added to some prepared foods, such as dried apricots and sausages, and also some beverages such as cider and wine, and can be used as a preservative, to enhance colour, and to prolong shelf life.

“The TV One report also committed the cardinal sin of science reporting – highlighting the existence of a risk without explaining the likelihood of it. In this case, the report said sulphites ‘can cause serious or fatal allergic reactions’, but it failed to put that risk into context. 

“As with other allergens, such as peanuts, a very small number of people are sensitive to sulphite and may react to them with allergy-like symptoms. For example, a small percentage of asthmatics have a high sensitivity to sulphites which can trigger asthma and symptoms of anaphylactic reaction.  It is exactly because of this that sulphites are regulated as allergens in Australia and New Zealand, and require declaration on food labels or in connection with unpackaged foods. 

“New Zealand has strict food safety rules which spell out clearly that butchers cannot use sulphite on raw meat. To present this as a ‘ban’ sensationalises the issue.

“MPI is doing the right thing by routinely monitoring the use of sulphite additives by what looks to be a tiny number of small businesses that do not reflect the practice of the mainstream meat retailing industry.”