Yesterday’s Herald editorial implied that former Green MP Sue Kedgley would be completely happy with new labelling laws and that I should be uncritically supporting them. This totally flies in the face of all that Sue worked for as an MP, which I am continuing to work on, to achieve the food labelling that people actually want.
The Green Party have always called for good food information for consumers to help them make informed choices. We believe that you have a right to know what is in your food and if it is healthy or not.
Of course we believe that any health claims have to be truthful – which they will now finally be – but equally importantly we believe that unhealthy foods should be labelled as such. Why is that second part so important? Because it works, and because shoppers want to be able to see at a quick glance which foods are healthy and which foods should be eaten only sparingly.
Anyone trying to claim that there is no need for labelling unhealthy foods is ignoring the truth about shopping for food in today’s environment. People have limited time to become detectives in the supermarket isles and there is a huge amount of misinformation and confusing messages out there.
Opponents to full labelling assume that everyone has a nutritionist’s level of knowledge, and that they know all of the foods and ingredients that lead to ill health and how much unhealthy stuff is a safe amount to eat. But that’s just not the reality of our world. Many people, including me, are shocked to see how much sugar is in a fizzy drink and are unaware that some cereals contain so much sugar they should be classified as confectionary.
I don’t know about you, but when I am shopping I don’t have time to check the nutritional content of every product, count all of the calories, and the calories my kids are eating, and do the maths to make those decisions. I want labelling that is simple to understand, truthful, and tells the full story not just the good news. I think many New Zealanders agree with me on that front.
For people to be able to make stress free decisions about what to eat and what to feed their kids, our labelling system needs to identify unhealthy foods that should only be eaten infrequently, not just the good foods.
Industry resists any scheme that identifies foods that are bad for people’s health, because that’s bad for sales. But our Government is not in the food retail business. It has responsibility for managing our public health service and so if we want to get real about improving public health outcomes we need to provide real information.
When the editor at the Herald says that we shouldn’t label for unhealthy foods is he really saying that New Zealanders don’t want good information? Is he saying that people don’t want to know about what they are eating? Is he saying that everyone knows which foods should only be eaten infrequently? That’s not my experience, it’s not backed by the evidence, and it’s not what people tell me.
So yes, we are congratulating the Government on their first step. I am also really looking forward to congratulating them on finishing the job and will keep pushing until that is done.