Parliament food fight: probably a “cock-up” rather than a conspiracy.

A fight nearly broke out in Parliament today over mandarins.

On one side was Labour Party MP Damien O’Connor, saying that shoppers were being lied to about where their fruit came from.

On the other was powerful Food and Grocery Council head Katherine Rich, who is strongly against making it compulsory for companies to say where their food is from.

Their war of words began when a select committee was shown pictures of mandarins, capsicums, and pears on New Zealand supermarket shelves which were marketed as being from New Zealand but were actually from Chile, the United States, Italy and the Netherlands.

Country of origin labelling is harder on individual produce, but not impossible.  It does come with a cost however.  

“How can we trust a voluntary [labelling] scheme when your members are lying?” O’Connor asked Rich.

“I think that’s very harsh and very unfair,” she shot back.

“We have got photos – that’s lying to the public,” O’Connor said.

Rich said it was probably a mistake, and that her members were not responsible for supermarket signage.

“Are we seriously thinking that the poor supermarket worker who stacked that shelf set out to mislead the consumer?”

National MPs eventually intervened, saying O’Connor was out of line.

Damien O’Connor is a Labour MP for West Coast.  His constituents want to cut down virgin Rimu forests and he’s faking concern about a mislabelled capsicum.

The argument came on a day when many of New Zealand’s biggest companies lined up to oppose proposed changes to food labelling.

A bill in the name of a Green Party MP Steffan Browning would make it mandatory for all single ingredient foods including fruit, vegetables, fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, nuts, oils and flour to have country of origin labels.

Those in favour of a change say it is a simple measure which the public is strongly in favour of.

But a number of companies and lobby groups said today it was complicated, costly, and could undermine New Zealand’s trading position abroad.

The National Party backed the bill at the first hurdle, but it could come under pressure to reverse its vote given the opposition from big business.

Country of Origin labelling is mostly effective already.  When it is a New Zealand product it tends to say so, and when it is not a New Zealand product it almost always makes the distinction.

I’m not aware of the current voluntary scheme being effectively broken or being abused.  And if it is, perhaps a complaint to the specific company involved with a threat of repercussions is much smarter than inflicting yet another mandatory regulation on a business where profit margins are under pressure at all times.

In the end, knowing something is from somewhere through legislation will make it more expensive to buy.  Is that really helping the consumer?

Some companies said that single ingredient foods were sourced from numerous countries. Rich said coffee, tea, sugar, flour and spice companies often changed suppliers depending on price, season and availability.

The law change would require them to continually change their labels, she said.

All but one of the council’s members wanted to stick with a voluntary regime, she said.

NZ Sugar Company chief financial officer John Ellis said his companies had seven or eight shipments a year, usually from different countries.

The raw sugar at its Chelsea Sugar Factory refinery was not separated, and it would cost between $20m and $25m to upgrade the refinery to allow segregation.

And even then that’s a farce.  Do you really think there will be zero “contamination” between origins during production?

And why place the burden on these manufacturers when a fruit yoghurt can contain ingredients from different mixes of source countries that differ within the same batch.

Again:  is the consumer really interested in this level of detail?  Are they willing to pay for it?

 

– NZ Herald


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.

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