NZ Food safety bill controversy baseless, say authorities

By Ankush Chibber

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, New zealand, Food

Controversy continues over New Zealand's food bill
Controversy continues over New Zealand's food bill
Controversy surrounding New Zealand’s new food safety bill refuses to die down with activists and conservatives leading protests from small producers and farmers against the bill.

New Zealand’s parliament is currently debating a new food safety bill that would replace the Food Act of 1981, which would introduce some fundamental changes to New Zealand's domestic food regulatory regime.

According to the bill’s proponents, it aims to provide a more effective and risk-based food regulatory regime that manages food safety and suitability issues, improves business certainty and minimises compliance costs for business.

A new approach to food safety

The new food bill advocated a new risk-based approach to food safety where the processes and practices that need to be in place at a food business to keep food safe would be made the prime focus.

Under the bill, anyone involved in the preparing, manufacturing, packing, transporting, storing, displaying or serving food for sale would need to demonstrate that they carry out safe food-handling practices every day.

Further, the bill stipulates that all food operators i.e. people who manufacture, sell or trade in food, and food importers will have a duty to ensure their operations result in the provision of safe and suitable food.

The bill would apply to all individuals and businesses that sell or supply food in exchange for payment – including food that is bartered, donated or given as a trade sample in the course of business.

Smaller players feel victimized

Opponents of this bill have grown in numbers with their agenda being based on information, or misinformation, that the bill targets the long-term sustainability of smaller producers and traders. They have taken their protests online with a petition to which they claim some 30,000 people have signed on to.

Among the claims being made against the bill are that people would be prohibited from growing their own food and trading it with their neighbors, and that registration would be required to provide homemade food for charitable and community events.

Alarmingly, opponents are also spreading the misinformation that claims that food safety officers will be empowered to conduct armed raids without warrants and with full immunity from prosecution.

The government has since then released statements, calling these claims baseless and manipulative of official language.

For example, in terms of raids, it has clarified that officers would get limited civil and criminal immunity when operating in good faith in the exercise of their duties, much like in other similar sectors such as commerce and biosecurity.

Food body says controversy needless

Katherine Rich, chief executive of New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (NZFGC) told FoodNavigator-Asia that activists in the US first stirred up the controversy in New Zealand around the food bill.

“Many of the wild claims made which created support for the online petition were completely unfounded, but unfortunately got quite a bit of traction here. The Ministry of Agriculture has been working hard to rebut some of the outlandish conspiracies,”​ she said.

Lauding the bill, Rich said that this bill is essentially New Zealand lawmakers are updating the previous food safety legislation, which hasn’t had a good tidy up since 1981. She reiterated that the bill has cross party support in New Zealand.

“NFGC does have some concerns about some aspects, but we are confident that these will be dealt with via regulation,”​ she added, without elaborating the concerns with us.

Related topics: Policy, Food safety, Oceania

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