The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) has issued an alert to New Zealand importers to make sure that any prunes imported from China do not contain high levels of lead, Green Party Food Safety spokesperson Sue Kedgley said today.

“Of course as we do not have mandatory country of origin labelling, New Zealand consumers buying prunes in a supermarket will have no idea where they come from,” said Ms Kedgley. “This latest food safety warning underlines the urgent need for mandatory country of origin labelling of fresh and single ingredient foods in New Zealand.

The warning follows the discovery, by the Texas Department of State Health Services, that prunes imported from China contained high levels of lead. In Texas various imported prune products have been recalled and consumers warned not to eat certain plum products. The NZFSA has advised importers to withhold or remove from sale any imported prunes that were imported from various Chinese companies. It has not yet issued any alert to consumers.

“New Zealand imported 1,563 kg of prunes from China last year, and 290 kg in July this year,” Ms Kedgley said.

“MAF says we haven’t imported any since then, but the reality is that Chinese prunes could still be on sale in supermarkets.”

“The food safety scare highlights yet again the fact that some of the countries we import food from do not have robust food safety regulatory systems in place, and so we cannot be certain of the quality and safety of food imported from those countries.”

“The NZFSA acknowledges on its website that ‘not all countries [we import food from] have well developed domestic food safety regulatory systems and individual food safety practices can vary’.

“Yet it vehemently opposes mandatory country of origin labelling so that consumers can work out where their food comes from, and continues to argue that country of origin labelling should be nothing more than a ‘marketing tool’for the food industry, to use as they see fit, to help them sell their products,” Ms Kedgley said.

Note: A coalition of consumer and producer groups is today launching a week of action for mandatory country of origin labelling in Auckland with a forum on this topic.

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