A Green Party survey has highlighted the urgent need for mandatory country of origin labelling — a move supported by a 39,000-signature petition presented to Parliament today.
"Consumers are in the dark about where most of their food comes from," Safe Food Spokesperson Sue Kedgley, who presented the petition, says.
Seventy-five percent of fresh and single component foods surveyed last week did not identify any country of origin, either on the product or on point of sale material.
The survey, of selected fresh and single component foods sold in supermarkets and independent food retailers, found meat and fish were least likely to be labelled. None of the meat had any country of origin labelling and only one out of the nine seafood products surveyed did.
Ms Kedgley said her petition showed there was overwhelming support for mandatory country of origin labelling. So did the fact that a broad coalition of organisations, ranging from producer boards, consumer groups, unions and professional organisations supported her call for mandatory country of origin labelling.
"The Government has tried to justify its obdurate refusal to introduce mandatory country of origin food labelling by arguing that manufacturers and retailers would do it voluntarily. This survey shows that this is not happening, and that regulation is essential to make it mandatory for fresh foods.
"Last year we imported around 1.5 million tonnes of food, but it is virtually impossible for consumers to work out where it has all gone. For example, about 96 percent of shrimps and prawns are imported - and yet the survey showed all were unlabelled.
"Many consumers want to support local producers by purchasing New Zealand made food. Others have concerns about the inadequate safety standards in some countries. Many imported foods have been fumigated with methyl bromide or may contain pesticides or additives that consumers may want to avoid.
"While I am pleased that Foodstuffs' supermarkets had made a commitment to label fruit and vegetables, there are more than 1000 independent food retailers in New Zealand, and the survey showed that most small retailers provide little or no country of origin labelling.
"Expecting retailers and manufacturers to provide country of origin information voluntarily is simply not working. The Government needs to listen to New Zealanders and institute a mandatory regime."