Damien O’Connor, Labour’s food safety spokesperson, said that the country needed to have an independent food safety agency or authority as is the case in many other countries, and that the current mechanism was failing.
“Bans by Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, because they can’t be assured of the quality of our goods, show the Ministry for Primary Industries does not have systems in place to support our trade representatives who are dealing with food safety issues,” he said.
O’Connor was referring to bans initiated by countries on NZ-made food products after global dairy giant Fonterra identified eight companies to which it had sold a contaminated whey protein concentrate—further exported to China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Saudi Arabia and used in products including infant milk powder.
“The Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, should reassess the formation and functions of MPI, which the government established last year,” said O’Connor.
The MPI was formed through the merger of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Fisheries, Biosecurity New Zealand and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority—the latter was a standalone regulator.
At that time, it was thought that a unified authority supporting the entire primary sector would be a sound strategy, bringing the best of all the different departments together for better synergies.
“MPI aims to support to the entire primary sector but this trade ban shows it is failing,” said O’Connor, adding that the best international practice is to have a separate and independent food safety authority.
“For a country so dependent on food exports, New Zealand should be able to match or better international practice. Countries as diverse as the United States, China, India, the United Kingdom and Norway all have stand-alone food safety agencies. Why can’t we?”