Does she stand by her statement that “country-of-origin labelling does not serve a food safety purpose”; if so, why?
Yes; because all food for sale in New Zealand is required to meet New Zealand standards, no matter where it comes from. A label that advises the country of origin of the whole food, or of each or some of the ingredients, does not in itself provide information on the safety of the food, but provides information only on the origin of the food. That being said, I say the Government fully supports voluntary country-of-origin labelling as a service to consumers.
Is it, therefore, the Minister’s opinion that New Zealand and China have equivalent food safety standards?
I should say that high-risk foods that come to New Zealand from anywhere are, in fact, monitored by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. So it is not actually a question of the levels of standards that apply in individual countries; it is whether the food is up to the New Zealand standard when it arrives here. In that respect, it does not matter whether it comes from China or Timbuctoo.
Can the Minister tell us what routine tests New Zealand applies for detecting melamine in dairy products imported from China; if there are none, how can she deny New Zealand consumers the right to know where their food comes from, so they can make their own decisions?
No country routinely checks dairy products for melamine. This has been a situation that has arisen in China in respect of the addition of melamine in the chain of supply, and, as I made the point the other day, one of the products we found that might potentially have had dairy product from China in it had come via Australia. The product did not, in fact, have melamine in it, so I hasten to reassure people about that. But the product had the country-of-origin labelling that is required in Australia, and that labelling said: “Made from domestic and imported products.”, and therefore it did not assist in identifying whether the product came from China.