Consumer’s Right to Know (Food Information) Bill – First Reading


Maryan Street said not to worry; that labelling already exists, although there are some problems with reading labels. Surely if labelling exists on products, which it does on many of them, it is not too difficult to add the country of origin. That is a very simple thing, and the idea that somehow it is damaging to New Zealand’s interests is quite false. It may be true that if New Zealand labels some of its exports “Made in New Zealand” some consumers in America might prefer the local product. Well, that is their choice. Surely it is just an extra motivation to our exporters to get our food standards to a high quality, to have good organic produce free of chemicals, and all that sort of thing, because it will make it more attractive to the discerning consumer who is choosing, partly, on the basis of country of origin.

The idea that it will cost a huge amount to put labels on food is absurd, I think. We are not saying that there has to be a sticker on every little kiwifruit. One of the problems is that sometimes food is over-labelled in that sense, but we at least need the bins to state where the product comes from. That is not too difficult for supermarkets and shops to do. In fact it is important for supermarkets, if they want to keep good quality products and make sure they are promoting the best producers, to have a traceability system and a labelling system so that everyone — from consumer back to supplier — knows which country the product comes from.

Maryan Street said that labelling was problematic because with some of the labels it is difficult to work out the chemicals, and so on. That is just a challenge to Governments to improve that aspect. But the point — and this is where Maryan Street misses out — is that it is not a question of trusting the State to get it right, and the State will make sure that everything we consume is nice and fresh, and perfectly healthy, etc. The bill is about the consumer’s right to know; the right of the people themselves to determine what might be the best food for them to eat, and to judge for themselves if it comes from a country that uses too many chemicals on its tomatoes. They might say the Australians use too many chemicals or the wrong chemicals on their tomatoes, which is what Sue Kedgley said in her speech on the first reading. They might say we want to eat New Zealand tomatoes. It is the right of the consumer to choose. In fact, in Australia they have that right. It is so bad that our Government is dissociating itself from the joint food standard with Australia, when Australia has that food labelling and we do not. The Green Party, through Sue Kedgley, got information under the Official Information Act that says the decision to dissociate ourselves from Australia, from the joint food standard on country-of-origin labelling, was made in secret and without consultation with any political party in this Parliament or any debate in the House.

The Cabinet paper, disclosed under the Official Information Act, said that New Zealand is moving to veto the joint approach of mandatory country-of-origin labelling of food, without consultation. It actually said that in making the decision, one did not need consultation — “consultation is not required with Government caucuses or other parties represented in Parliament”.

This really is Muldoonism. It is executive decision-making without any consultation. It is also a bit like Roger Douglas, who said: “Don’t worry about public opinion, just do it.” It is not what should happen in an MMP Parliament, particularly when we have a history of minority Governments. The whole concept of MMP is to incorporate the whole Parliament and all parties in decision making in order to have educated debates.

How can we properly choose what foods to eat? There has been talk about pork. When going through supermarkets I have not seen pork labelled as being from overseas. We just do not see it and we are not able to make a choice as to what country’s pork we want. It is a basic democratic right to be able to decide for ourselves. We could decide on either side. For example, garlic comes in from China. Some people may love buying Chinese garlic but they cannot find out whether it is from China. Most people might say that they want to support their local garlic producers rather than consuming Chinese garlic. People should have an equal right to choose.