No problem so no need for mandatory CoOL in NZ

14 August 2015

New Zealand does not need to regulate on country of origin labelling because there is no evidence of a significant problem, says FGC Chief Executive Katherine Rich.

She was responding to a media inquiry after the Australian Government announced plans for a new system of country of origin food labels. Their use would initially be voluntary, but manufacturers will be forced to use them from 2016 if the states and territories agree to the proposal.

Asked for FGC’s position, Mrs Rich issued the following statement:

The NZ Food & Grocery Council has been closely following the country of origin labelling debate to see what effects Australian changes might have on the export of New Zealand products to Australia.

The announcement of the new labelling system by the Australian Government is a good example of how sometimes in policy development the politics of an issue can sometimes overtake available evidence.

It seems to many within the industry that lobbyists pushing for country of origin labelling in Australia have successfully used hysteria surrounding the Nanna’s Mixed Berries food recall over concerns about links to hepatitis cases to push for a new labelling regime, when the two issues were really quite unrelated. According to reports, Nanna’s Mixed Berries were accurately labelled as containing berries from China and there was never any doubt about the berries’ origin.    

The new labels will possibly be well-received in the Australian domestic marketplace, but the reaction in export markets will be interesting. Like New Zealand, Australia serves major markets overseas. Sometimes, consumers are interested in origin, but at other times they might not be so interested that they need the sliding scale of 25%, 50%, 75%, 100% Australian content. There will also be an extra cost to the Australian food industry if they have to regularly change their labels or have lots of different SKUs for different markets. Time will tell and this is a matter for Australia.  Thankfully, the new system has a long list of exemptions e.g.  soft drinks, sports drinks, seasonings, biscuits, snacks and confectionery.

In terms of New Zealand product sold into Australia, anything that is legal to sell in New Zealand can be sold into the Australian market because of the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement and CER. The inter-country rules are clear, but what the Australian supermarkets decide to do is their decision. What could change – and this is currently the subject of FGC’s further inquiry to the Ministry of Primary Industries and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – is that goods “packed in” New Zealand could need to have a further origin statement about where the products’ ingredients originate, which would be a new requirement and affect the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement.   

The New Zealand Government, MPI, and FGC maintain the view that we should stick with the status quo because there is no significant evidence of there being any problem to solve by way of regulation.

A voluntary country of origin labelling system for fresh produce has been in place for years. Shoppers walking into any supermarket can read information that tells them their bananas are from the Philippines and their new potatoes are from Oamaru, and the origin of other fresh produce.

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

The whole debate in New Zealand has really been superseded by extra information provided in-store or on-pack by supermarkets and manufacturers.  If there are gaps in the information then those lobbying for a mandatory system need to show us some evidence, because as far as FGC members are concerned the information is already there.