IT can be hard to get as much information as we'd like about the food we eat, especially when it comes to what's gone into our food and where it comes from.
We still don't have, for example, proper country-of-origin labelling on foods. We're maybe halfway there — fresh and frozen fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and seafood will soon be required to display their country of origin, and that's a great start. But we're a long way from easily knowing where everything we eat has come from.
A couple of good initiatives have recently started, though, which give us access to more information about some of our food if we want it.
One is the stamping of eggs. The Egg Producers Federation has recently introduced the Trace My Egg programme, (tracemyegg.co.nz) which means we can look up an egg's provenance on our phone or other device. Check your egg shell for a stamped code. Type in the code, and you'll be able to see the farm the egg comes from and how it was produced. There are two levels of third-party verification in place to make sure stamping practices are being followed correctly, and so far you'll find stamps on about 70 per cent of the eggs in stores.
The egg-stamping programme has been started in part to give us consumers confidence in our eggs again, after scandal in the past with eggs being passed off as free range, for example, when in fact they were not. Now, if we want to check even before we buy that we're getting what we think we are, we can. This is to be applauded, and here's hoping it will soon apply to 100 per cent of eggs.
Another interesting development is the availability of more information on sugar in our food.
New data on "free" or added sugars in foods has been added to the latest version of the New Zealand Food Composition Database. The database, which is compiled by Plant & Food Research (www.foodcomposition.co.nz), is the information on which nutrition professionals and the food industry relies, and it's accessible to the public too.
Until now, though, the only information available to us — whether looking at a label or looking up the database — was for total sugars, which can be misleading. This is especially so when manufacturers are making claims like "no refined sugar", but still loading their products up with sugar in the form of coconut sugar, honey or syrups.
Now there will be nowhere to hide; anyone can pop along to the database and look up a food to see its level of added sugar. This — not the natural or intrinsic sugar in foods like fruit and dairy — is the stuff we really need to worry about. So for example I can now easily see that Froot Loops is 41 per cent added sugar, and good old rolled oats made with milk is 0 per cent. It would be amazing to see this information made mandatory on labels, too. Let's start asking for it.
• Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide www.healthyfood.com