SAFETY AND TRUST
WE CAN BE fairly positive in New Zealand that what’s printed on the packet is the same as what’s inside the packet – and whatever that is won’t kill us or make us sick. But news headlines today often feature food scares (some deliberate, some unintentional) even in well-regulated nations.
One study, for example, found a third of seafood on US shelves was mislabelled, and the country suffers E. coli outbreaks every year in everything from Taco Bell to organic spinach. Then there was the 2013 European horse meat scandal, and a raft of Chinese and Indian scandals, including the well-publicised 2008 melamine-poisoned infant formula horror story, which killed six babies and hospitalised 54,000, and the toxic bean-sprouts scare, where the vegetables were treated with sodium nitrite, urea, antibiotics and plant hormones to make them grow faster and look shinier in the market stalls.
Otago-based food provenance certifier, Oritain, reckons “food fraud” has an impact on at least 10% of global food production, although there’s no real way to measure it because most of it goes unreported.
“Food fraud is essentially anything done to a product for economic gain, whether that’s dilution or full substitution or a brand rip- off,” says Oritain sales and marketing manager Todd Gordon. “Honey is a shocker – a lot of honey [on the global market] contains no honey at all. It’s not necessarily harmful but it rips people off; then there’s labelling caged eggs as free range and things like that.”
It’s not surprising then that food safety is top of mind for global food consumers. A Mintel study six months after the horse meat problems found half of British shoppers didn’t trust the food industry to provide safe food, and only 36% thought food manufacturers knew where their ingredients came from.
And research by Lincoln University trade and environment professor Caroline Saunders suggests food safety often tops the list of what foreign consumers look for when they buy their food.
The US Grain Council’s 2040 report suggests foods with demonstrable safety attributes will be able to command premium prices – at least in the future.
“In 2040, verifiable information about a food product will deliver an important part of the product’s value.
“East Asian markets will belong to suppliers whose customers trust them because they can demonstrate the safety, quality, and identity of their food. Trustworthy products will command a substantial food differential.”
The problem for New Zealand is that mostly