By: Amy Wiggins

As prices for fresh fruit and vegetables rise they are becoming out of reach for low-income families, a group of health academics say.

AUT nutrition Professor Elaine Rush, physical activity and nutrition lecturer Dr Carolyn Cairncross and PhD student Issac Amoah penned a letter for today’s New Zealand Medical Journal citing concerns that, compared to a loaf of bread or a box of Weetbix, fruit and vegetable prices were climbing rapidly.

Many New Zealanders are struggling to afford to buy enough fresh produce to feed their families a healthy diet, they said.

Wages for families in the poorest third of households had remained constant since 1982, yet in May the price of fruit and vegetables rose 14 per cent compared with May 2016, the letter said.

In September, fresh produce prices were up 5.7 per cent on the previous year.

The unusually high price of some vegetables, in part due to unfavourable weather, has been well publicised this year.

In March the price of a head of cauliflower hit $10 a head and in May, a 200g avocado was selling for about $4.52 while kumara were going for $8.18 per kg. Even potatoes jumped in price with a kilogram costing $2.12 in August this year compared to $1.63 a year earlier.

Comparisons to Australian prices also sparked outrage with a head of broccoli reported to cost AUD$0.87 in Australia compared to $3.69 here.

To adhere to the 5+ A Day recommendation, a family of six would need to buy 21kg of fruit and vegetables a week.

Cairncross, one of the authors of the Medical Journal letter, told the Herald the increase in price meant lower-income families were eating more poorly and missing out on essential nutrients.

Health professionals needed to consider the impact of fruit and vegetables, or the lack thereof, when treating overweight patients, she said.

Removing GST from fresh produce left questions about what people would spend the savings on but she agreed fruit and vegetables needed to be more affordable for those in need.

“The rising cost of fruits and vegetables makes this recommendation even harder to achieve, particularly for those on limited incomes … New Zealand produces enough whole foods to feed 40 million people but for many New Zealanders and especially children, the supportive environment is not provided, ie, sufficient money and physical access to fruit and vegetables,” the letter said.

Health Minister David Clark said raising the minimum wage, included in the new Government’s 100-day plan, would make it easier for many parents to feed their children a healthy diet.

“We know deprivation has a negative impact on children’s health, including on their diet.

“The Government has a mandate to implement changes for the good of all New Zealanders. One part of this is helping people to afford a healthy diet for themselves and their families.”

Professor Grant Schofield, this year appointed the Ministry of Education’s first Chief Education Health and Nutrition Advisor, said rising food prices as a whole were a concern but he did not believe fruit and vegetables were more of an issue, with seasonal and staple vegetables still affordable.

Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Kris Faafoi said he understood many families found the rising cost of living really difficult.

“Our competition law is there for the long-term benefit of consumers so I am interested to see how greater competition in the retail grocery sector might improve outcomes.”

Supermarket owners Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises both agreed it had been a difficult year for growers with bad weather reducing the supply and making it difficult to keep shelves stocked and prices down for customers.

The supermarket giants offered advice on how people could keep vegetables in their diet at a lower cost.

A Countdown spokeswoman said extremely wet weather across New Zealand was putting pressure on the amount of pumpkin, kumara, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and other produce available at the moment but the store’s Odd Bunch range offered fruit and vegetables that were slightly odd shaped or had some hail damage at a lower price.

Foodstuffs NZ head of external relations Antoinette Laird said bagged salads, stir-fry vegetables, slaws and frozen vegetables had been popular due to the increase in prices of fresh produce, and sales of frozen vegetables had increased 10 per cent over the last year.

But supplies were improving as the warmer weather arrived, she said.

Horticulture New Zealand’s latest report said unseasonable weather events, like cyclones Debbie and Donna which had hit New Zealand this year had impacted the supply of many items and pushed prices up.

Export NZ executive director Catherine Beard said most New Zealand produce was traded globally which meant growers were less vulnerable to managing surpluses but still had to remain consistent and reliable even in poor seasons.

“For any business, they’ve got to get a return on their investment and they’ve got to cover costs,” she said.

Produce prices

New World Southmall, Manurewa
Strawberries: $2.99 for 315g
Telegraph cucumbers: $1.79 each
Iceberg lettuces: $2.49 each
Broccoli: $1.49 each
Potatoes, washed: $2.99/kg
Navel oranges: $3.49 for 1.5/kg

Countdown Browns Rd, Manurewa
Strawberries: $3 for 250g
Telegraph cucumbers: $2 each
Iceberg lettuces: $2 each
Broccoli: $1.50 each
Potatoes, washed: $2.50/kg
Navel oranges: $2.50/kg

Fresh and Save, Manukau
Strawberries: $2.49 for 250g or two for $3.99
Telegraph cucumbers: $1.99 each
Iceberg lettuces: $1.19 each
Broccoli: $1.49 each
Potatoes, washed: $2.49/kg
Navel oranges: $2.89 for 1.5kg

Tips to make fresh produce more affordable

• Put less meat on the plate and spend more on vegetables
• Learn how to cook with seasonable vegetables
• Buy what’s on special
• Buy frozen vegetables

Source: NZ Herald


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