Opinion: Consumers clearly have an appetite for more information about the food they are putting in their mouths.

But rather than getting hung up on country of origin labelling, we would be better off pushing for truth of labelling.

It's hardly surprising that people are confused, even angry, when they learn, for example, that pork products they pick up in the supermarket labelled "Manufactured in New Zealand" may well be meat imported from Spain, Canada or the US and reprocessed here into bacon, sausages and smallgoods.

If we want to do something about that sort of misleading labelling, we should give more money to the Commerce Commission to take action against the importers and re-packagers involved.


Federated Farmers and other primary sector groups have long argued that country of origin labelling is something of a red herring if the driver is consumers' desire for food that is safe.

The safety of imported (and locally grown/processed foods, for that matter) is the proper domain of the New Zealand Food Safety Standards.

President of Federated Farmers, Katie Milne. Photo / Supplied
President of Federated Farmers, Katie Milne. Photo / Supplied

If we are concerned about food grown overseas, we should be asking how rigorously our authorities are testing it for pesticide residue or whatever other issues we have misgivings over.

The Consumers Right to Know (Country of Origin) Bill is back before the House.

In its original form it would have covered all single-ingredient foods.

But an amended version released by the Primary Production Committee would only require labelling of single types of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish or seafood, which have been minimally processed.

So in examples often given: fresh tomatoes; frozen sliced beans and minced meat would require a country of origin label; cured and marinated meats, crumbed fish fillets, tinned fruit and vegetables, dried fruit etc, would not.

If the amended Bill is passed into law, Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi is threatening to step in and use his ministerial powers to put products such as bacon and fish fillets back on the mandatory labelling list.

Someone pushing a shopping trolley around might well think "What's the problem - just tell me where the product is from".

But there are nuances and intricacies to this debate.

Many other countries - including our trading partners - have country of origin labelling laws.

We have lobbied against them in those countries because they are often used as non-tariff barriers to imported goods.

Primary produce exports are vital to our economy and livelihoods.

We can hardly argue against country of origin labelling in other countries while enforcing it here.

There are also extra costs and complications wrapped up in packaging and labelling foods and meeting different country of origin labelling requirements all over the planet.

Remember, there's nothing to stop New Zealand producers voluntarily emblazoning their goods with "Made in NZ" as a domestic or export marketing tool.

Our producers have an excellent reputation, so it's little wonder some importers fudge their labelling to ride on that good name.

That's what we should crack down on.

•Katie Milne is president of Federated Farmers.