New Zealand is being used as a back door to get Chinese produce on to the Australia market.
While a great deal is being said about how seriously China takes the safety of imported foodstuffs (vis a vis Fonterra’s woes) it pays scant attention to what it ships around the world.
The issue of Chinese vegetables getting around Australian regulations by coming through New Zealand has been around for a year or so but it seems nothing is being done to police or change it.
It works like this: Vegetables from China are sent to New Zealand where they are mixed with big name brands and sent on to Australia where they are sold to the unsuspecting consumer.
This is made possible by a loophole in our trade agreements with Australia and also that country’s unwillingness to adopt country of origin labeling. While it is not mandatory here either most companies at least pay homage to it.
The move by Australian manufacturers to bring their factories here mean mosts times they are no longer sourcing from Australian farmers.
Critics are quick to point out that there is a lot of food coming over the ditch from here which is more than is actually being produced here.
They say the product is out of China being processed in New Zealand. Two thirds of the frozen vegetables in Australia were now being sourced from foreign investors.
Australian consumer advocate AUSBUY told interest.co.nz the practice was rife and there was nothing that could be done to stop it.
Lynne Wilkinson said any food product sourced from overseas did not have to be labeled as to where it was from.
“Global companies will do whatever it takes to get product here.”
Not only are the vegetables being sourced from China they are avoiding chemical residue testing by coming through the back door.
Toxic imported frozen vegetables are in the mix, it is claimed.
Jo Immig, of the National Toxics Network, said at one stage 18 bags of frozen vegetables from Australia and New Zealand were tested and three came up positive for ‘nasty” chemicals.
The four chemicals found in the vegetables were all pesticides that have been banned by the European Union and were under review in Australia.
The worst chemical found was procymide in a winter vegetable product made in New Zealand from “local and imported products.”
Asked if there was much ongoing public concern at the issue she said not really.
“The public has a lot to cry about I guess and they've been trained to want the cheapest without questioning,” she said.
“It is the NZ Free Trade Agreement with China which allows a percentage of Chinese frozen veges to be mixed with NZ produce and still call it made in NZ."
“Pesticide residues in imported produce is a significant issue [in Australia] as there's basically no gatekeeper.”
Lynne Wilkinson was not critical of the Kiwi role, however, only that lack of labeling country of origin in her country made it possible for this situation to arise.
“We are not saying no, we just have to be smarter ourselves."
“We are very aware of how New Zealand manages its food policies and have a lot to learn from it,” she said. “New Zealand has been very smart since the Roger Douglas export policies of the 1980s.
“Sound policies were put in place and staying committed to them has allowed for the success of such businesses as Fonterra.”
“Off the mark”
HortNZ spokeswomen Leigh Catley said the comments were “off the mark”.
“New Zealand food manufacturers import some processed fruit and vegetables to make up for product which we either don’t have at certain times of the year, or we don’t grow at all."
“For example, some frozen stir fry mixes include products like lemon grass shoots and baby corn which we don’t grow. They are imported and mixed with locally-grown products."
“There are some vegetable processors who then export these products to Australia. New Zealand has considerable vegetable and fruit processing capacity and we export these products all over the world, every day,” she said.