Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Doctor calls for Government action on fruit, vege prices

Ministry of Health nutritional studies show fruit and vegetable consumption by New Zealanders was well below what it should be. Photo / File
Ministry of Health nutritional studies show fruit and vegetable consumption by New Zealanders was well below what it should be. Photo / File

A doctor battling the country's obesity epidemic says the "tragically" high fruit and vegetable prices need to be forced down, and junk food prices need to hit consumers in the pocket.

Fruit and vegetable costs rose by 3.5 per cent in January from December prices, Statistics NZ reported.

For the year to January, fruit and vegetables cost an extra 5.9 per cent.

Those figures have prompted Dr Robyn Toomath, the spokeswoman for Fight the Obesity Epidemic, to urge the Government to bring prices of healthy food down.

"It seems kind of tragic to me.

"This is the time of the year where you expect fruit and vegetables to be at their most affordable, but still they're powering on up, and what drives this, who knows?"

Ministry of Health nutritional studies show fruit and vegetable consumption by New Zealanders was well below what it should be, Dr Toomath said.

"What are we doing to increase fruit and vegetable consumption? And the answer would appear to be 'absolutely nothing'.

"I can't think of a single solitary thing which is being done at a regulatory level to assist in fruit and vegetable consumption."

Unhealthy foods appeared to be getting cheaper, while healthy foods were becoming unaffordable, she said.

The Government needed to adjust tax rates, she added.

"That's not only reconsidering taking GST off fruit and vegetables, which is so blindingly obvious that that's where we have to start, but it also includes adding a tax to the unhealthy food so that people can compare the costs of buying kids milk as opposed to soft drink, and realise that milk is the better value for money."

Dr Toomath said councils could also be urged to encourage growers' markets.

"Can they provide free space for vegetable growers to sell their stuff at the weekend?"

Councils could also set aside public land for people to grow their own vegetables, she said.

Big industries controlled what foods were sold and at what prices, and people had a right to demand that the environment was manipulated in a way that was "helpful and not harmful", Dr Toomath said.

Fruit and vege monthly price rises and falls for January made up partly of:

* mandarins up 23 per cent;
* apples up 7.7 per cent;
* lettuce up 20 per cent; and
* broccoli up 38 per cent;
* apple prices were at their highest level since December 2008;
* nectarines down 23 per cent; and
* pumpkin down 13 per cent.

Fruit and vege yearly price rise and falls to January made up party of:

* kumara up 98 per cent;
* apples up 21 per cent;
* avocados up 86 per cent

(Source NZ Statistics)

- APNZ

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