Country of origin labelling on food

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 17-Jul-2007 11:19

New Zealand and Australia signed a joint memorandum in the mid 90's signalling the creating of ANZFA, an organisation that has since been renamed FSANZ (Food Standards Australia new Zealand) who's responsibility it was to develop and impliment joint food standards in both countries. This is something that's extremely logical and the fact so many suppliers in this part of the world have products in both countries it meant that the development of ingredient and nutritional panels on foods would be easier since both countries would have the same standard. This system has worked very well with the implimentation of compulsary ingredient and nutitional labelling over the past few years.

Over the past couple of years however things have started to go off track, we've had the current saga of the complementary medicines act which is likely to be be passed in Australia and canned in NZ but lets ignore that and focus on other issue where NZ has differed - country of origin labelling on foodstuffs.

In Australia it's soon going to be compulsary to include the country of origin on all food products. While a large percentage of food already mentions this it's was not required by law and companies had no obligation to include this information. All food products will require to have this information on the packaging including fruit & vegetables, meat and seafood. Australia adopted this however our Food Safety Minister Annette King decided this was not in the best interests of NZ on the grounds that it was not a Food Safety issue but simply an issue of consumer information. Several  groups in NZ were strongly against this bill including Federated Farmers who believed there was no need for such labelling. The irony of this is that our own farmers are suffering due to cheap foreign meat being imported into NZ and sold at a retail level with consumers being totally oblivious to this. If meat had to have country of origin labelling you would at least be giving consumers a choice between imported or domestic products. How they could possibly object to a law that would force retailers to show the country of origin of meat completely baffles me.

Recent cases of dodgy Chinese seafood and dodgy toothpaste shows how out of touch Annette King is. Whether these products are safe or not is irrelevant. Consumers have a right to know where their food is manufacturered so they can make appropiate decisions for themselves. Maybe people want to avoid food from a country such as China? Maybe people just want to know if their food is made in NZ so they can support locally made products? Annette King's claim that country of origin labelling was in no way related to food safety has now been proven totally innacurate so it's about time we reviewed this stupid decision not to join Australia in enforcing country of origin labelling.

If you are serious about knowing where your food comes from make sure you write to your local MP and suggest that her stupid decision be over turned. Knowing where our food comes from is a basic right.

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Comment by Jama, on 17-Jul-2007 12:56

I agree - the only Chinese food I want is wanton, pork, noodle soup - made in NZ from local and imported ingredients.

I now have to eat Australian Peanut Butter because all the other brands are made in China. I remember a few years ago a sausage factory in China which exported to Europe was closed down because their main ingredient was canine! Then the other day a pork bun factory was closed down for using cardboard as the main ingredient.

Seriously we don't need this rubbish. I am thinking of a new campaign:

'Eat New Zealand food, wear clothes made in China'

Comment by paradoxsm, on 17-Jul-2007 14:38

i had some of that chinese peanut butter and it was just horrible. All sweet and I'm glad i stockpiled before the aust stuff ran out forever. Almost all food is imported, i'm sure our meat we see on the shelves is all imported pre frozen junk. Rump steak is blade steak anyway, lamb is mutton.

Author's note by sbiddle, on 17-Jul-2007 14:46

The meat thing is what really gets to me. We have a lot of Australian meat imported into NZ and sold in supermarkets and butchers yet there is no requirement to label this. There are also a lot of Xmas hams that are also imported with no requirement to label this as such.

I'm not against importing goods and you can't simply say that imported goods are crap. Plenty of Queensland beef for example is of much higher quality than what is available in NZ at certain times of the year and some of the cheap biscuits made in UAE are very tasty. However giving a customer all the information on the product lets them make an informed decision as to the goods they want to buy in much the same way putting ingredients and NIP's on foods allows customers to choose between brands.

Comment by edge, on 17-Jul-2007 14:48

I agree Jama – coming from generations of farmers and also happening to own a retail clothing shop where the clothes are made in China, how could I not!! But seriously, while I don’t disagree with your idea of country of origin labelling Steve, and I am definitely no supporter of Annette King or her political allies, I think one does have to be careful to separate the issue of country of origin labelling from food safety.  I want to know that my food is “safe” moreso than I want to know where it comes from (although I don’t mind both!).  While I agree that China has a much (much!) dodgier record on food safety than NZ, we need to remember that NZ occasionally slips up too.  One recent incident that springs to mind is that of the Northland farmer who applied endosulfan (off-label) to his cattle ( and/or and created a potentially significant negative impact on trade with Korea and Taiwan.  I don’t think, in all fairness, we would want those consumers to see anything labelled as coming from NZ as being tarred with the same brush.   I reiterate I am not comparing NZ’s record with that of China (I know where I would rather have my food produced), but just pointing out we need to be cautious in equating country of origin with food safety per se. I think the same could be said of clothing made in China.  The clothing we sell is an international (based in Europe) brand that uses all natural fibres, low impact dyes (no heavy metals) etc and has an ethical approach to manufacture that sees all its Chinese manufacturers complying with environmentally sound manufacturing processes (closed cycle waste water systems etc..) and also ethical treatment of its workers (working conditions, pay etc).  I don’t profess to know the conditions under which all clothing is produced in China but I imagine they are produced under a variety of conditions – some good, some not so good.  I guess I’m just saying that “made in China” doesn’t automatically mean either “good” or “bad”.  Like with food safety we need more information – in addition to country of origin to determine acceptability or otherwise.  Again, my final comment would be I am not opposed to such labelling, just that it shouldn’t become the proxy for acceptability/safety to the consumer per se.

Comment by Geri Phillips-Ball, on 6-Aug-2007 13:16

I was horrified to read that my peanut butter was made in China. I had just assumed that products the were sold with a supermarket label or a brand that is well-known was made in either New Zealand, Australia or imported from the USA. It was only because I was listening to a talkback programme that I became aware of this problem. I couldn't work out why the peanut butter didn't taste right, not like my usual brand. I thought I would try a store brand for a change and now regret it. I certainly will be reading all my labels before I buy any food products. Your article was excellent also.

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Steve Biddle
New Zealand

I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems.

I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix)

  -xDSL deployments

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.

+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.

You can contact me here or by email at