Following the 2017 New Zealand general election, a minority coalition government has been formed between the Labour Party (Labour) and the New Zealand First Party, with a confidence and supply agreement between Labour and the Green Party.
How will the newly-elected government impact consumers? Below are some key consumer-related policy changes that are expected to be in issue over the coming months:
Review of the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act ('CCCFA')
- The CCCFA, enforced by the Commerce Commission, helps to ensure consumers are able to make informed decisions when borrowing money and aims to protect borrowers from oppressive behaviour by lenders.
- Kris Faafoi, Labour's new Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister, plans to conduct a review of the CCCFA, including placing some restrictions on third-tier lenders in a bid to protect vulnerable borrowers.
- More particularly, the Minister has cited plans to introduce interest rate caps on payday lending (offering consumers high-interest, short-term loans).
- The Minister is also striving to provide the Commerce Commission with greater resources so that it is better able to monitor lenders compliance with the CCCFA rather than just investigate complaints about potential breaches of the Act.
Review of the Health Star Rating System
- Currently, New Zealand has a Health Star Rating System. This is a voluntary labelling system that rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food products by rating them on a scale from ½ to 5 stars. This is then displayed on the front of the packet.
- The number of stars a product receives is based on a comparison of its content of 'good' ingredients (fibre, protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes) with its content of risk nutrients (saturated fat, energy, total sugar and sodium).
- Minister of Health David Clark has indicated his intention to work with the food industry to develop a better front-of-pack labelling system.
- There is commentary to suggest that a major flaw in the current labelling system is that it allows manufacturers to offset unhealthy ingredients with healthy ones, for example by adding more fibre to high-sugar cereal. This may then mislead consumers into purchasing one product over another, mistakenly believing it is the healthier option.
Country of Origin Food Labelling
- A private member's bill, the Consumers' Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill is currently under consideration.
- The bill provides for the mandatory labelling of single component foods with accurate information about the country of origin.
- The "country of origin" of a particular food is the country in which the food is grown, harvested or produced.
- "Single component foods" are packaged or unpackaged foods that contain only one ingredient, although they may contain water, sugar, salt or other ingredients used for preservation, colouring, and flavouring. Examples include fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, nuts, flour and oil.
- The purpose of the bill is to enable consumers to make informed food purchasing decisions. Without country of origin labelling, the concern is that consumers may be misled/deceived into assuming these foods are produced in New Zealand.
- The bill creates offences in respect of the making of false or misleading statements on labels, packaging, signage, and in advertisements, in relation to the country of origin of single component foods.
- Individuals are liable for a maximum penalty of $10,000 where the court finds intention to commit the offence, and $5,000 in any other case.
- Body corporates are liable for a maximum penalty of $50,000 where the court finds intention to commit the offence and $10,000 in any other case.
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