On buying local, labelling laws and a nasty taste in my mouth

On 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 time.

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.

Increasingly, consumers 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, seasonal produce.
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 Tasmanian.

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 disadvantage.

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 very sick.
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.

‘Calls to toughen up labelling laws: we need to know more about our food’, The Mercury, 22 February 2015.

Here's our post on Our Food Challenge.