Finally, New Zealand is getting country-of-origin food labelling. But the recently released draft regulations are a missed opportunity to provide consumers with clarity around where their food comes from and how it’s produced, writes Hilary Pearson of Freedom Farms.
It seems a bit laborious to rehash the already storied history of the Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Act. At this point it feels like it’s been talked about for eleventy-seven gazillion years. The bill was passed by parliament at the end of November 2018 and now, 12 months later, draft regulations have been released so we know what it’s going to look like in practice. And it’s clear it’s not as robust as pork eaters need it to be.
In many ways we’ve timed our run poorly in terms of getting this legislation across the line. In 2018, when the bill was going through the select committee stage, some people delighted in telling me that no one really cared that much about how their food is produced, so country of origin wasn’t a big deal.
We’re now 18 months down the road from the select committee consultation and suddenly one in three New Zealanders are reportedly thinking about reducing their meat consumption because of the environmental impact of how it is produced. Undoubtedly the conversation has changed, and now we need to give New Zealand consumers every opportunity to support farming systems that match their values around sustainability and welfare.
To be super clear, if you’ve done the mahi and decided that a meat-free life is for you, fill your boots. It’s a wonderful thing to live in a country where lots of diverse ideas around how what we eat and how we produce it can peacefully coexist.
But for the proud omnivores, like us, who are committed to supporting a better production system that includes farm animals, we need to be able to figure out the impact of our food choices. The Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Act 2018 is an important part of the transparency needed to make those choices.
Despite the tough conversations around local farming practices and environmental management stewardship over the last 12 months, New Zealand as a whole is actually pretty damn good at food production. It’s very easy to take for granted the fact I can walk into my local grocery store or butcher and purchase – for less than $20 – the same carefully farmed grass-fed beef that is recognised as among the best in the world. It’s not everyday food, but it’s still a wonderful eating experience and I’m chuffed to support the work these farmers are doing to make their farms sustainable.
But pork products in New Zealand struggle to inspire the same degree of respect because so much of it is not farmed here, and consumers are often rightfully confused about what they’re buying.
Even Freedom Farms products – which are all sourced from a really special group of independently audited farms in South Canterbury – still elicit phone calls and emails from consumers wanting to know what country our pork comes from. This is despite our packaging proudly saying “Farmed down by NZ’s Southern Alps” and listing Freedom Farmed NZ pork as the main ingredient.
Country-of-origin labelling presents an opportunity to untangle the confusion about where (and therefore how) pork is farmed – rather than just processed. Sadly, the regulations don’t go very far in providing the clarity that consumers need.
Today, more than 60% of the pork purchased in New Zealand is not farmed here. In 1992, only 8% of the pork came from overseas. When you look specifically at bacon, less than 15% of bacon sold in New Zealand is made from pork raised here. In 2018, more than 50 million kilograms of fresh and frozen pork was imported from 25 countries and most of it was processed into a huge array of pork products.
Much of the confusion is around the term “processed”. The proposed regulations require country of origin disclosure on pork that is imported and “minimally processed”. That covers all the cuts that are imported, portioned up by a butcher and packaged for sale – straightforward. There is also a clause to cover bacon and ham: “… a processed pork product that is made of at least 30% pork flesh and is represented for sale as bacon or ham.” Also straightforward. But what about everything else?
Sausages are in the too-hard basket. Same with reformed or minced pork products (such as meatballs, pulled pork, luncheon sausage and salami). Marinated, seasoned or injected (moisture-enhanced) pork has also ended up in a gaping loophole. The industry estimates there is currently 520,000kg of pork products sold each year that would fall into this marinated/seasoned/injected category, and given how easy the draft regulations make it for importers to shuffle product sideways into “processed” goods, that number will surely grow. Especially given the growing demand for convenience food that is quick and easy to prepare – many consumers see meat that has already been marinated or seasoned as one less step in their evening meal routine.
This omission means these imported pork products with local New Zealand manufacturing addresses will end up sitting in chilled cabinets, alongside locally grown pork, with no disclosure of where it was farmed or how many thousands of kilometres it travelled to get here.
We reckon that is too tricksy.
New Zealand Pork is calling on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to update the Consumer Information Standards (Origin of Food) Regulations 2019 to close the loopholes so processed pork products all require the country of origin of the pork to be disclosed. Their suggested wording is that cured pork include processed pork product that contains or is made of at least 30% pork flesh, cooked or uncooked; and (a) is represented for sale as ham or bacon; or (b) contains ingredients for the purposes of preservation, flavouring, moisture enhancement, tenderising, yield extension or reforming; or (c) is represented for sale as a sausage.
Freedom Farms supports this proposed change.
We don’t always agree with the NZ Pork Industry Board, but it has our full support on this. Local pork producers cannot compete against the onslaught of imported product from overseas farms that may employ gestation crates and use antibiotics to treat a wide range of diseases not present in the New Zealand pig herd to gain competitive advantage and achieve lower cost. And nor should they be forced to try.
These regulations are probably the only opportunity we’ll get in the next 20 years to even up the playing field (based on how ridiculously long it has taken to get this far). If you feel that all pork products should be included in the regulations, please consider emailing a submission to the Competition and Consumer Policy Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org before 5pm on Monday 10 February, 2020.
This content was created in paid partnership with Freedom Farms. Learn more about our partnerships here.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.