New Zealand rebuts Free Trade Agreement loophole allegation

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 23rd September 2011

The New Zealand Food & Grocery Council (FGC) has strongly rebutted an allegation that vegetables from China have been entering Australia via New Zealand without being labelled as of Chinese origins.

A report televised on 19 September 2011, by Australia’s Today Tonight show on the Chanel 7 network, had claimed that a loophole in an international trade agreement was allowing Chinese vegetables to enter Australian supermarkets while avoiding chemical testing. The report alleged that New Zealand was being used as the back door into Australia, for vegetables with chemicals banned in other countries being allowed in.

The allegation claimed that the Australian importers were able to do this by virtue of the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Agreement (TTMRA). The TTMRA is the name of the Free Trade Agreement between New Zealand and Australia.

Today, the Chief Executive of the New Zealand FGC, Katherine Rich, told Australian Food News, “This is the worst case of sensationalist scaremongering claptrap I’ve seen in a while. New Zealand has very rigorous food safety laws as does Australia. Our members carry out stringent audits on all their suppliers to make sure their vegetables are of the highest quality.

“The Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Agreement is something that works well for both our countries. It’s an opportunity for Australia and New Zealand as close trading partners, not a loophole.”

The Today Tonight report stated that an Australian accredited lab had chemically tested eighteen bags of frozen vegetables from McCains, Heinz and Birdseye, plus Coles and Woolworths home brands. The report also stated that most of these frozen vegetables were imported from China or New Zealand, with only a few being Australian home-grown. According to the Today Tonight report, some of the vegetables contained chemicals that are banned in Australia.

According to New Zealand FGC’s Chief Executive Katie Rich, “The products mentioned in the report are safe. These are products of responsible, respected companies with a deep dedication to consumer safety. Claims that New Zealand products are unsafe are completely hysterical.

“Listing out the chemicals in such an ominous way that the report does is designed to shock. It’s exactly like horrifying someone by telling them that there is arsenic in their glass of water, but not mentioning that there is only a tiny trace in tap water in such a small amount that it can’t possibly have an effect on them,” she said.

The same Today Tonight report was the catalyst for a hostile response by Queensland grower organisation Growcom, which Australian Food News subsequently reported.