Renewed calls from pork industry to get rid of loophole in food labelling law

Renewed calls from pork industry to get rid of loophole in food labelling law
Photo credit: Getty

By Riley Kennedy of RNZ

The pork industry has slammed the government for refusing to make labelling country of origin mandatory on all imported pork.

Laws designed to give people clarity on where their food comes from were passed in 2018. However, last year the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said there would be a 12-month delay in the new rules coming into effect due to Covid-19.

As part of this, imported pork will need to be labelled with its country of origin, however, the pork industry says a loophole has been left unadvised.

This means pork that is imported and then further processed in New Zealand, including bacon, ham and sausages, will not be required to have such labelling.

NZ Pork chair Eric Roy said more than half of the pork consumed here was imported from countries such as US, Spain and China and the proposed regulations as they currently stand will leave many consumers none the wiser.

"That's hugely frustrating because what it actually allows is if an importer does just a minor adjustment meat like marinate or infused with a bit of moisture, it can be labelled as New Zealand product," he said.

"It is a get-out-of-jail card."

Roy said it had called on Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister David Clark to make labelling of country of origin on all imported pork compulsory.

But he said the minister had confirmed the provisions in the act would not be changed - which the industry finds hugely disappointing.

"From our point of view of pig producers in New Zealand about 60 percent or slightly more than is imported, and it is run under a different regime from New Zealand and some of it would not be allowed to be produced in New Zealand," Roy said.

"We think people ought to be able to choose wisely about the origin of their food.

"And, the third thing is the more promotion we put into what we are doing around the nutrition value of pork and the eating value of pork, the imported pork is making no contribution to that and they are picking up market share all the time on the back of our advertising."

NZ Pork chief executive David Baines took aim at the minister saying he was "clearly not taking the views of consumers into account".

Last year, research undertaken by UMR found more than 80 percent of New Zealanders believe it is misleading if imported pork further processed in New Zealand is not labelled as imported.

As well as 85 percent agree that imported pork marinated in New Zealand should be labelled as imported pork.

Meanwhile, 84 percent agree that imported pork sitting on supermarket shelves beside pigs raised in New Zealand should be labelled as imported pork.

The rules are set to be finalised by June and come into effect in December.

The minister for consumer affairs has been approached for comment.

However, the Government was refuting the pork industry claims that it had not discussed country-of-origin labelling with the organisation.

Minister for Consumer Affairs David Clark said officials had engaged with the industry.

"The government recognises that knowing where a food comes from benefits both consumers and businesses in New Zealand."

Including items like bacon and sausages within the mandatory country-of-origin labelling would increase the complexity and cost of the regulations, Clark said.

It would create an inconsistency between the treatment of pork products and other processed foods, he said.