Why should I read a food label?
A food label tells you essential information about the food you are buying, such as the ingredients, nutritional information, allergens and use-by dates. Labels also give you instructions about things like storing and cooking the product. All of this information, which is required by law, helps you make knowledgeable decisions about what you are buying.
The Ministry for Primary Industries has an online guide to what should be on a food label.
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Do I have a right to know if the food I am buying is genetically modified or not?
Yes. Under New Zealand law genetically modified foods must be labelled so that consumers can make informed choices about the food they buy. For packaged food, the words ‘genetically modified’ must be next to the name of the food or the specific ingredient in the ingredient list. For unpackaged food, such as fruit, the words ‘genetically modified’ must be displayed next to the food in the shop.
You can also approach the manufacturer if you want to find out more about a product. The contact details should be on the label.
Note that a meal that is prepared in a restaurant or other food outlet, or by a caterer, is exempt from GM food labelling requirements.
For more information you can visit the Australia New Zealand Food Standards website.
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Does the country of origin have to be displayed on the food label?
Only in the case of wine - wine labels must include information about country of origin. This is not a requirement for other food. However the contact details of the New Zealand or Australian distributor must be on all food products, so you can contact them and ask about the origin of the product.
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I’m allergic to certain foods. Do foods have to be labelled to show that they contain allergens?
Foods which contain one or more of the most common life-threatening allergens must have those allergens listed on the food label (or displayed next to the product in the shop):
- cereals containing gluten and their products (eg, wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt)
- crustaceans (eg, crayfish, crabs, prawns) and their products
- egg and egg products
- fish and fish products
- milk and milk products
- tree nuts and sesame seeds and their products
- peanuts and soybeans, and their products
- added sulphites in concentrations of 10mg/kg or more
A warning statement (a statement which must be worded exactly according to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code) is required for products that contain royal jelly.
An advisory statement (similar to a warning statement but does not have exact wording requirements) is required on:
- foods that contain bee pollen, aspartame, quinine, guarana, phytosterols, phytosterol esters, and propolis
- low-fat milks (including soy and rice milk), kola beverages containing caffeine, unpasteurised egg products, and unpasteurised milk and milk products
For take-away food that contains allergens, there must be a warning or statement alongside the food, or the information must be given to you if you ask for it.
For more information about allergies, see the Allergy NZ website.
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How accurate is the nutrition information panel on the side of my cereal box?
All packaged food products (except for foods packaged in the shop, foods with negligible nutritional content, such as tea, or where the packaging has a very small surface area) must have on the food label a nutrition information panel stating the average nutritional content of the food you are eating.
This information must be accurate and can help you plan a balanced diet. For more information you can visit the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website.
You can find some useful guides to nutrition on the Ministry of Health, HealthEd website.