Have you ever wondered where your food comes from? Ever wondered about the quality and looked at the labels? Well they may or may not be of any help at all. Recently I bought a Nashi pear with “manufactured in China” on the label. Just poor English? Or perhaps unwittingly very correct English?
The recent audit of the controls on imported raw frozen prawns into Australia (http://www.igb.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/final-uncooked-prawn-imports.pdf) has highlighted for me some of the biosecurity problems there, with a number of large import companies in Australia caught systematically “gaming” the biosecurity system to bring in containers of frozen prawns that avoided border checks and testing.
The reality is that food is a global commodity. Many New Zealand foods are sourced overseas or are sent overseas for processing before being returned. Back in 1994, I was involved in certifying the condition of Alaska Pollack exported from New Zealand to Iran. For those unfamiliar with fish, Alaska Pollack come from the Bering Sea, near Alaska, not the Southern Hemisphere – and the fish had been caught by Russians, sold to another party, then a NZ company and finally to Iran – without ever having left the hold.
In 2012, over ten thousand German schoolchildren in 5000 schools sickened after eating strawberries in their school lunches. China is now the world’s largest supplier of strawberries, and 44 tonnes of Chinese strawberries were bought by a European company Sodexo – a large food distributor that supplies lunches to German schools. The strawberries were likely sourced from China because they were cheap. A quick check on this week (March 2018) shows that frozen strawberries can be bought ex China for US$100 a tonne, https://www.alibaba.com/showroom/strawberry.html
Similar issues are likely to be occuring in New Zealand. New Zealand exports about 8000 tonnes of honey a year, yet “genuine” NZ Manuka honey ex china can be procured at $US 1789 a tonne, the supplier can supply 50 tonne per day. See https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/HACCP-Certification-Manuka-New-Zealand-honey_60668438168.html?spm=a2700.7724838.2017115.343.493182c3M0C1rg
Or another supplier can supply 500 tonnes a month from https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/100-Pure-Manuka-Honey_1854726201.html?spm=a2700.7724838.2017115.33.493182c3M0C1rg and a bit cheaper too. Of course, you will need labels, and alibaba can supply those as well:
Alternatively I could buy NZ 26% butterfat milk powder. Now the Global Dairy trade price is around US$3623 a tonne but NZ whole milk powder is available ex Poland, 20 000 tonne per month for US$500 a tonne. https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/New-Zealand-26-Regular-full-cream_50028944846.html?spm=a2700.7724838.2017115.64.6edb7739lXSv7A
Austrian and French companies are advertising similar prices at the moment. So, I could potentially buy the cheap full cream milk powder, 16 tonne per container, route it through Auckland and make a little profit on the side.
Which gets me back to prawns. Why would major importers want to actively avoid biosecurity checks on their product? Prawns in Australia, as in New Zealand, are retailing at around $15 a Kg, and yet prices on the international market for shrimp (which we and Australians call prawns) currently start at around US $3 a tonne (that’s right – three dollars a tonne). The potential profits are significant, however, to maximise profit, quality (such as being infected with unwanted exotic viruses) is potentially sacrificed.
The problem for MPI is having the resources and expertise to detect and counter “gaming” of international commodities on such a huge scale.