buying local, labelling laws and a nasty taste in my mouth
I’m all for eating local
and seasonal. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. I don’t do it all the
I choose Tasmanian,
Australian and infrequently, overseas, in that order.
Mostly I like it when the
Lovely Deputy brings in produce from the garden. A 60-year-old walnut tree
shades most of the yard so his green thumb is constrained.
I’ve hidden the chainsaw to
be on the safe side so we still buy a lot of our fruit and veggies.
I drink the juice of a
lemon in water every morning. Every single morning. Except for the last month
or so because I've only found American lemons available for around eight dollars a
kilo. I’ve swapped water with lemons for Australian oranges.
I rarely buy fresh fruit
and veg from overseas. Although a couple of lemons did find their way into my
shopping trolley: for their rind and juice in cooking when I won’t go without.
A couple of lemons are
about it. I gave up Peruvian asparagus and Thai baby corn awhile back.
The father of a woman I
used to work with grows raspberries and blackberries down Dover way. Each
summer I buy a few kilos from her and whack them in the Tuckerbox.
They might be frozen but
they’re not as expensive as buying punnets and I prefer to buy Tasmanian fruit
and support local producers.
When I’ve finished my
supply and want for a larger quantity of berries, I’ve always bought the
infamous Creative Gourmet or Nanna’s: blueberries, raspberries and even the
maligned mixed berries. They source their fruit from China and Chile and lately
their food production standards have allegedly exposed several batches of fruit to the
hepatitis A virus.
Hepatitis A can make you
very sick and there’s an international recall.
Since then, Tasmanian growers have
added their voice to greater regulation of food labelling.
want to know where their food comes from and make informed choices about how to
spend the food dollar. This is great if it encourages people to buy more local,
And Australian food
labelling is pretty much hopeless. But it does tell you about as much as you
need to know. If it’s frozen and canned, it’s not usually Australian let alone
Spinach can self-seed in
your garden but you can’t buy Australian spinach from supermarket freezers.
The call for increased
regulation is always worth considering with a healthy dose of skepticism. It’s
generally reactionary. Tougher controls are a knee-jerk reaction to issues that
are often much more difficult to resolve. Interest groups lead the charge
because it offers a market advantage.
When it comes to fresh
produce, something more fundamental and structural is in the way. It’s often
the way trade agreements are negotiated which can leave us at a competitive
Buying local and seasonal
is an alternative but it’s one that’s not always practical or affordable. We
need to make it more accessible and that’s price points and availability not
labelling laws. See our recent post on Tasmania's food challenge below.
But more than free trade
and locavorism, there’s something about the labelling law push that leaves a
nasty taste in my mouth. And I just need to spit it out.
I’m not convinced that
knowing the country of origin of a product can guarantee the safe food
standards that are being promised with new labelling.
The premise is that
Australian products are safer. It’s true we do have high food safety standards.
But we’re not pure as the driven snow either.
Most people are still happy buying feed-lot beef and caged eggs. They
won’t give you hepatitis but there’s something glasshouse about it. And just
for a little perspective, of the hundreds and thousands of packets of frozen
berries consumed in Australia each year, the overwhelming majority of these do
not cause illness. I’ve only been sick from restaurant food. One of those cases
was uncooked chicken and the other was poor hygiene-related. And p.s. I was
So I’m thinking the focus
on the label might be something a little more distasteful.
Try this for yourself: see
how many times you can count the word ‘China’ in news reports and ask yourself
why those news reports could not just say ‘overseas’. I can’t help wonder if
there isn’t a little xenophobia to be found in to help push the local product
in this labelling debate.