The Green Party's year-long campaign calling for country of origin labelling of food has played a key role in bringing the New Zealand garlic industry back from the brink of collapse.
Green Safe Food spokesperson Sue Kedgley said that by highlighting the amount of unlabelled Chinese garlic being sold in supermarkets, the Greens' "Join the Food Revolution" campaign had encouraged New World and other supermarket chains to show a preference for locally-grown garlic.
"Our consumer awareness campaign has been so successful that the main supermarkets are now opting to buy locally-produced, rather than imported, garlic wherever possible," said Ms Kedgley. "The increased demand for locally produced garlic has, in turn, given new life to the ailing local garlic industry.
"A few years ago the once-thriving New Zealand garlic industry was on its knees, almost decimated by cheap container-loads of garlic coming in from China. Now it is undergoing a renaissance."
With garlic as the centrepiece, the campaign sent out e-cards, postcards and media releases alerting people to the fact that most unlabelled garlic in supermarkets came from China. The campaign also highlighted problems associated with Chinese produce — such as food miles, fossil fuel consumption, methyl bromide fumigation, bio-security risks, lack of quality controls — and the need for country of origin labelling so that consumers could work out where their food comes from.
"Furthermore, the Greens are deeply concerned that the proposed free-trade agreement with China will see supermarkets flooded with cheap Chinese produce threatening other sectors of our food industry," Ms Kedgley said. "Now more than ever we need to have country of original labelling so that consumers can support our local growers.
"When Soil and Health Association of New Zealand co-chair Steffan Browning and I met with three Marlborough garlic growers in late November, it was heartening to discover that the campaign had successfully lifted consumer demand for New Zealand garlic.
"Best of all was the news that New World supermarkets have decided to give preference to New Zealand garlic. This was in response to consumer demand and other supermarket chains are following suit.
"The Marlborough growers attributed the turn-around to the Green Party's campaign. Now our garlic industry is flat out trying to respond to the increased demand. One grower we met had increased his garlic crop four-fold for next year. Others are following suit.
"If we can achieve such a turnaround in the garlic industry, imagine what we could achieve across the food chain if consumers sought out and bought locally produced, New Zealand food."