Vegetable growers are digging into the debate about whether GST should be removed from food.
Fresh figures show Stats NZ food price index rose 9.6 percent in the year ended July, the lowest annual rate since September last year.
A 4.1 percent fall in the cost of fruit and vegetables like tomatoes, avocadoes, and oranges were the big drivers in lower prices for the month.
Meanwhile, Vegetables NZ says if changing tax setting cuts costs for growers and customers then it should seriously be looked at.
But it says the industry needs fit for purpose regulation to encourage investment to encourage more production.
Vegetables NZ chairperson John Murphy discussed the matter with Checkpoint.
What's your feelings on removing GST from food?
"Well, it's pretty clear that the public wants better access to fresh vegetables and fresh produce generally, and we're delighted by that and I think that's why there seems to be such political will out there in the public for a GST change.
“What we're saying is that if there's a barrier there to people buying, let's really look at getting rid of it. But I think probably the key thing we want to look at is how we make it easier to grow vegetables and get them into people's homes.”
So are you for removing GST from fruit and veg?
"I'd like us to look at it, but we're getting advice back from economists that says that it's tricky, personally. I can't see how it's that complicated, but far brighter minds than mine have a lot to say on its efficiencies and so forth.”
Are you concerned that your growers won't get any benefits from it back from the supermarket?
"There's some of that. Ultimately there's no point making a change if consumers don't win and producers don't win, so we think the really key thing that we need is for regulators to explicitly prioritise local food production. And we think that's the message that the government’s been given by the public.
What regulations currently are making sort of salad and chips more expensive?
“ I think. That we always start with looking at our key inputs, which are our staff, the team that we work with, our land and the water that's available. So wherever we can make it easy for growers to do their job and get on with growing, we want to make those areas less complicated.
“Just as as an example, I think that in a national level, regulators do prioritise food security. But region by region, that's not necessarily the case, and that is making it more complicated."
Can you give me a specific example?
“I can so New Zealand Gap is a New Zealand grower-run scheme that is audited independently and shows that we grow in the right way. It delves into everything from the way we grow, the inputs we use, how we treat our people. And that's been developed over decades. It's a very effective system and yet there are some government departments that are not prepared to use that and instead are looking to develop their own systems to get into that space.
“I would argue that the system is working well. Growers are well aware that we need to treat our staff well. We need to treat our land well and we need to keep providing fresh, healthy vegetables. To New Zealanders.
So what can consumers expect over the next few months?
"Well, I think it's a really positive sign that year on year our vegetable prices are down 4.1%. That's quite stunning given that we've had cyclones and that some of our growers and - I do need to point out some are really stil struggling and we really feel for them - that decrease reflects the fact that growers have planted more because they've seen that need in the market. So that's a really good sign. Of course we can't crystal ball gaze and say that bad weather it's not going to affect us going forward, but we're certainly planning to be as resilient as we can be going forward.”