The mayors of New Zealand's four biggest cities have thrown their weight behind a campaign pushing for mandatory labelling of products containing controversial palm oil.
Outgoing mayors Len Brown, Celia Wade-Brown and Julie Hardaker, of Auckland, Wellington and Hamilton, along with Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel, have written to Food Safety Minister Jo Goodhew calling for the change ahead of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation meeting next month.
Palm oil, derived from the fruit of oil palms, is estimated to be in about half of all products available in supermarkets but can be generally labelled as vegetable oil.
It's expected New Zealand and Australia will bring their labelling laws into line with the United States, the European Union and Canada, but over health concerns rather than because of the palm oil industry's impacts on rainforest destruction and critical habitat loss.
Wade-Brown said she was moved to instigate the joint letter after hearing a presentation by Unmask Palm Oil campaigner Ben Dowdle, who is driving a campaign alongside the country's four main zoos.
"There are some things that are actually really difficult to take out of the supply chain, but unsustainable palm oil can be removed either by using other vegetable oils or by using certified palm oil."
The issue resonated with her as she had experienced the smoke from burning forests in Indonesia and had witnessed in Africa the impact that large palm oil plantations could have on wildlife.
"The four mayors represent some pretty big population centres, so if we speak up, I think, respectfully, the minister may well listen."
Auckland Zoo acting director Kevin Buley said the zoo was "delighted" to see the four mayors getting behind the campaign.
"Having seen in Europe and the US a massive increase of businesses choosing sustainable palm oil due to mandatory labelling, I feel that if New Zealand and Australia follow suit we can make a real impact on the palm oil industry which, in turn, will help us in the fight to save so much unique wildlife."
Dowdle also welcomed the move.
"With polling showing 92 per cent support for mandatory labelling in New Zealand, the backing of three political parties and the support of these four mayors, the minister . . . would be defying public and political opinion if she were to vote against labelling in November."
Goodhew, representing New Zealand on the forum, told the Herald in August that she would consider the advice of a technical report ahead of the meeting, but wouldn't be drawn as to whether she would be voting for mandatory labelling.
While the purpose of mandatory food labelling in New Zealand was to provide information about the safety and nutritional value of food, companies could make labelling decisions themselves to meet consumer demands or environmental concerns, she said.
Last week, a spokesperson said her position remained the same.
Consumer NZ backs a move to mandatory labelling, but the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council is against it, pointing to the practical problems that companies would face by having to label specific vegetable oils.
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