It took 14 years but ‘bet­ter late than never’

The Orchardist - - News - By Sue Grant-Mackie

Ev­ery­one con­grat­u­lated ev­ery­one else and there were high fives through­out Welling­ton. Ac­tu­ally, this ex­plo­sive at­mos­phere of cham­pagne pops and stream­ers prob­a­bly owed more to sheer sur­prise than any­thing else. Be­cause, in fact, ev­ery­one had al­most given up on CoOL. Let’s be clear – this cam­paign has been go­ing 14 years, and count­ing. It was launched in 2003. So when the bill was se­lected from the bal­lot last year – which is sheer luck – it set hearts pound­ing and there was re­joic­ing just short of street par­ties through­out the land. Four­teen years is a long time. No one saw it com­ing.

But let’s go back to the be­gin­ning when then Green MP and tire­less food safety cam­paigner Sue Ked­g­ley launched the cam­paign for manda­tory coun­try of ori­gin la­belling for food.

“The cam­paign be­gan in 2003 in re­sponse to FSANZ [Food Stan­dards Aus­tralia New Zealand] call­ing for sub­mis­sions on a pro­posal for manda­tory coun­try of ori­gin la­belling of food, and I re­al­ized the gov­ern­ment was op­pos­ing this.”

So it seems New Zealan­ders have al­ways been clear about this – they have al­ways wanted manda­tory CoOL for fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles. The re­cent Hor­ti­cul­ture New ZealandCon­sumers In­sti­tute sur­vey said the same thing. While this 2017 re­sult sent a rip­ple of warm fuzzies and hugs through­out the land, back in 2005 the idea sent politi­cians and of­fi­cials scream­ing from the room.

The 2005 pe­ti­tion was pre­sented to Par­lia­ment and that very day, or the next, New Zealand’s main su­per­mar­kets be­gan vol­un­tary coun­try of ori­gin la­belling on fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles, which was a big step for­ward. “Peo­ple were out­raged [about the lack of CoOL] and mo­men­tum was build­ing.”

Sue's pe­ti­tion was the sub­ject of a se­lect com­mit­tee in­quiry. But se­lect com­mit­tees were wary, and most shrieked in fear As part of the cam­paign Sue took shop­pers on su­per­mar­ket when they saw CoOL com­ing. tours around the coun­try. She showed them the dif­fer­ence

“No se­lect com­mit­tee wanted to touch it. It ended up with between im­ported food, and lo­cally grown food. She

the health se­lect com­mit­tee be­cause all the others re­fused to pointed out that there was no la­bel to tell con­sumers

look at it.” where their gar­lic, pork or other food came from. But some­times it was pos­si­ble to tell the dif­fer­ence – Chi­nese Both Na­tional and Labour voted against it due mainly to an gar­lic looked very dif­fer­ent to lo­cally grown, for in­stance. “ob­ses­sion” with free trade. “Twenty years ago New Zealan­ders didn’t re­alise how “The big thrust against it was the gov­ern­ment’s be­lief that much of their food was im­ported. It didn’t oc­cur to us it would un­der­mine its free trade lib­er­al­i­sa­tion agenda. [be­cause New Zealand was a food pro­duc­ing na­tion] and Which was non­sense, of course. Most other na­tions and our we as­sumed the food on sale in su­per­mar­kets was mostly trad­ing part­ners were al­ready com­mit­ted to coun­try of ori­gin grown here.” la­belling.” Around that time mas­sive amounts of Chi­nese gar­lic was Aus­tralia has had manda­tory CoOL on food for many years. be­ing im­ported, which un­der­cut the New Zealand gar­lic New Zealand politi­cians and their ad­vi­sors were adamant that in­dus­try. The lo­cal in­dus­try shrank and this rang alarm CoOL would un­der­mine New Zealand’s abil­ity to ex­port, and bells for Sue. She pre­dicted seg­ments of the New Zealand no amount of ar­gu­ment would budge them. CoOL had come grow­ing in­dus­try could be “dec­i­mated” by un­la­belled up against a mys­te­ri­ous and im­pen­e­tra­ble bar­rier. im­ports. “If we are not care­ful some seg­ments our own But Sue kept up her cam­paign for manda­tory coun­try of food in­dus­tries will be wiped out”, she said at the time. ori­gin la­belling of food for nine more years in par­lia­ment and [Her gloomy warn­ing is still rel­e­vant, but for dif­fer­ent set up a wide rang­ing coali­tion for CoOL. rea­sons – land and wa­ter use.]

Sue be­lieves con­sumers are now much more aware about where food comes from and about food safety is­sues, a mo­men­tum that be­gan with the pe­ti­tion and the su­per­mar­kets’ vol­un­tary in­tro­duc­tion of CoOL for fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles in their stores. And the fact that New Zealand ex­porters are con­fi­dent about their pro­duce and want it to be la­belled on over­seas shelves.

“Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand was piv­otal to the whole thing too. They have been out­stand­ing in their sup­port and lead­er­ship around coun­try of ori­gin la­belling and ab­so­lutely piv­otal right from the start.”

Hort NZ was part of a CoOL coali­tion which in­cluded the Pork In­dus­try Board.

For­mer Hort NZ chief ex­ec­u­tive Peter Sil­cock says Hort NZ be­came in­ter­ested in CoOL around the time in­sults and ac­cu­sa­tions were be­ing thrown around about whose veg­gies were from where. In par­tic­u­lar the Aus­tralian in­dus­try ac­cused New Zealand of be­ing sneaky and sneak­ing for­eign frozen peas across the Tas­man.

“We saw that there should be some good rules around this.”

“Shop­pers as­sumed that Wat­tie’s sold New Zealand only pro­duce. But Wat­tie’s is owned glob­ally now and it sources its pro­duce from all over the place.”

“We could see that an ed­u­cated con­sumer pre­ferred to sup­port lo­cal in­dus­try and trust the grow­ing sys­tems here, rather than those off-shore.”

He agrees with Sue that the “free trade ar­gu­ment” used to stop CoOL for years was never cred­i­ble. “New Zealand has had com­pul­sory coun­try of orig­i­nal la­belling for clothes and shoes for a long time.”

“Most de­vel­oped coun­tries have some sort of CoOL.”

Peter be­lieves there’s a been a big shift in con­sumer aware­ness, and a change within New Zealand’s food in­dus­try, since CoOL first took its baby steps years ago.

“Peo­ple are more aware about the is­sue of where their food comes from and we now have a con­fi­dent food ex­port in­dus­try aware and proud of its own place in the world, and it wants to be seen as dif­fer­ent, la­belled from New Zealand.”

“New Zealand is known for qual­ity and in­no­va­tion.”

Cap­i­tal­is­ing on the lime­light, Hort NZ be­gan a new move­ment via Face­book and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms, urg­ing peo­ple to ask their lo­cal MP about what they were go­ing to do about the re-newed call for CoOL. The feeds also pro­vide a steady stream of in­for­ma­tion to an in­ter­ested pub­lic, and en­cour­ages a lively de­bate.

The Face­book launch was a mas­sive suc­cess reach­ing more than 1,700 peo­ple in its first week.

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