Where does our food come from?
Understanding where our food originates is the subject of growing public concern. Consumers want to make informed purchasing decisions and there is a major cultural shift towards ensuring that our food is ethically and sustainably sourced. On the back of this, is a strong preference to support local producers.
Labelling as a marketing tool has a significant impact on consumers' purchasing decisions. Used properly it is very powerful. However, currently, there is a sense amongst consumers that there is not enough rigour and that labelling practices are "misleading".
Consumers want quick and accurate information to help decide what food to buy. They expect food labels to be clear, consistent, honest and accurately designate the origin of the product.
Inaccurate or vague country of origin statements such as “made in New Zealand from local and imported ingredients” do not provide consumers with adequate information about the origin of that product. For example, the Pork Industry Board has recently stated that 60% of pork consumed in New Zealand is imported, despite the misapprehension by New Zealand consumers that most of the pork sold in New Zealand is produced here.
And while it's against the law for food suppliers to mislead consumers where their food comes from or how it was produced, there is no mandatory labelling legislation system that provides consumers with accurate information about the country of origin. This is set to change.
About the Bill as introduced
The Consumers' Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food Bill) is a Member's bill currently undergoing its third reading. The Bill aims to provide a mandatory country of origin labelling system in respect of single component foods.
If enacted, the Bill will require information about the country of origin of the single component
food to be displayed at the point of sale. This information could be contained on a label or connected with the food or food product. The Bill will also create offences for false or misleading labelling on packaged food or displays, with fines of up to $10,000 for individuals and up to $50,000 for organisations.
What does the Bill mean for you?
The main "takeaways" from the Bill at this stage are:
The Bill applies to all single ingredient fresh, frozen and no more than minimally processed foods (packaged and unpackaged);
The Bill does not apply to any dried, cured or pickled food - except for cured pork products (e.g. bacon);
The Bill applies to food (that meets the criteria above) that is supplied, offered or advertised for supply at retail stores (e.g. food sold in supermarkets, convenience stores and online stores);
The Bill does not apply to food offered for immediate consumption, such as food sold in restaurants, take away shops, café's etc; and
The Bill allows the Minister to exclude certain food if compliance would be difficult or would not assist the consumers to make an informed decision (e.g. roadside sellers).
If you are a food manufacturer or importer, it is important to start thinking about new label designs and wording to accurately identify the country of origin of the food you are selling. If you are a food retailer, it is important to regulate the food provided by your suppliers once the law is enacted to ensure they are complying with the law.