11 Feb 2022

Country of origin food labelling comes into effect in supermarkets

8:11 am on 11 February 2022

From tomorrow, a trip to the supermarket or greengrocer could look a little different, with new country of origin food labelling requirements coming into effect.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The rules aim to make it easier for consumers to know where some of their food comes from, by requiring retailers to ensure the product's country of origin is clearly labelled on the item's packaging, or on a sign nearby.

The changes only apply to certain fresh and thawed foods: including fruit, vegetables, seafood and meat as well as cured pork products like ham and bacon. If these foods are frozen, they would be required to state the country of origin from 12 May 2023.

Commerce Commission general manager of fair trading Vanessa Horne said mandatory country of origin information would let consumers know where certain food comes from, and help them make informed decisions when they are those buying products.

"For example, bananas from Ecuador will need to be clearly identified as being from Ecuador, either on packaging, labels or signage placed on or next to the shelf."

Vanessa Horne said the regulations applied to single ingredient food, meaning packages of mixed foods such as a bag of frozen peas and corn will not be covered. Meatballs containing herbs, onions and garlic would not be covered, nor will a container of red and green grapes. Most processed foods are also excluded.

Vegetables New Zealand chair John Murphy said the new rules brought Aotearoa into line with other countries, including Australia and the European Union.

He said at the moment food labelling was "a little bit loose" which caused confusion for shoppers. The new regulations would mean there was less room for labelling claims which were designed to "fool the consumer," he said.

"You have things [labels] like 'produced from local and imported ingredients', right across product lines, and that really just confuses consumers."

"This is really about giving consumers confidence that they know what they're buying."

Canterbury pig farmer Helen Andrews said the country of origin labelling requirements had been a long time coming and could make a significant difference for her industry.

More than 60 percent of the pork consumed in New Zealand is imported, but Andrews said until now, it had been hard for people to work out if what they're buying was local.

"These regulations will give real clarity and confidence for the people picking up the pork to be able to determine where it was reared, so it's really good," she said.

Horne said it has been working closely with food producers and traders to develop guidance on the new rules, so it did not expect them to come as surprise.

Failure to comply with the Regulations would breach the Fair Trading Act 1986 and could result in an infringement notice requiring payment of a $1000 infringement fee per offence or fine of up to $30,000 for each offence.

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