Country of Origin Labelling

Would you be surprised if I told you that all food – even if it’s labelled organic – is not equal? Country of origin matters.

I am quite naive (growing up in a stable family in a small country town does that I think). I trust others perhaps too easily – some might even say I’m gullible; my siblings would! But when it comes to food, I do my research.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t see the point of country of origin labelling – other than from a patriotic point of view; we all remember the “Buy NZ Made” campaign. Plus staying away from imported fruit – especially grapes – which is commonly fumigated before it reaches the supermarket shelf here.

And surely if food is labelled as organic that means it should be safe to consume, wherever it comes from? Right?! Well not always.

As a slight aside, let’s be clear too about the existence of greenwashing. This is where a product is marketed or promoted as more sustainable and organic than what it may be. And it is common in New Zealand’s unregulated organics market.

In New Zealand, you can’t trust an organic product as authentic unless it has a certification logo on the packaging. There are a handful of private organisations that provide organic certification in New Zealand including BioGro and AsureQuality. To get this logo the company’s organic systems have to be verified by an independent third party to show that that particular food is produced according to the market requirements of the NZ market. 

But different markets have different requirements. What is considered organic in the EU may not meet USA or some of the Asian market definitions.

AND then things get even more complicated! Recently I became aware of the dangers of consuming food with ingredients from China – even if they are labelled organic!

Like other markets, China has its own standards for organic products. As in many markets “organic” in China refers to a way of producing and processing a product, not “organic chemistry.”

Everyone knows that China has extensive industrial development and high pollution. The concern is that testing has now shown foods grown in China – including rice protein certified as organic and Gingko Biloba herbal supplements – are significantly contaminated with heavy metals.

  • Almost one-fifth (19.4%) of China’s arable land is heavily contaminated with toxic heavy metals.
  • 82.8% of the contaminants found on farms are “inorganic” contaminants which include cadmium, mercury, arsenic, copper and lead.
  • Four out of five non-organic fruits and vegetables grown in China are so toxic that they’re sold in violation of the government’s own heavy metal limits!

This same soil is what “organic” herbs, superfoods and dietary supplements are grown in before they are exported to countries including New Zealand.

In the US, neither the FDA nor the USDA has any limits whatsoever on heavy metals contamination of foods. In the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code there are maximum levels for metal contaminants arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and tin – but they aren’t nil.

And whilst our regulations here in NZ give us some peace of mind, we can easily make some changes to our shopping habits to protect ourselves further. Stop buying food – even organic food – which states it is grown in China or made from imported ingredients from China. Pumpkin seeds are a common food to watch out for. And if the packaging just says imported ingredients, contact the manufacturer and ask for the country of origin.

Go and look in your fridge and pantry now. What can you find that is made from China-grown food?



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