The accusations come after the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) successfully prosecuted 15 meat retailers and three company directors for the use of sulphur dioxide in raw meat.
The charges, which resulted in fines, were laid by MPI after an operation in Auckland in 2013 in which samples of meat were taken for analysis.
‘An outrageous omission’
“MPI takes food safety very seriously and our Food Act Officers put in a great deal of effort to ensure the public can be confident that food available for purchase in New Zealand is safe and suitable,” said MPI compliance operations manager Gary Orr after the convictions.
However, Labour questioned the ministry’s food monitoring operation.
“Gary Orr today admitted National’s much-vaunted super ministry doesn’t have the resources to routinely monitor and test fresh red meat sold in New Zealand. This is an outrageous omission,” said the party’s food safety spokesman, Damien O’Connor.
“The 15 Auckland butchers found adding sulphur dioxide to their meat to make it appear fresher were only caught after an investigation was sparked by a local couple becoming ill from eating mince.”
O’Connor added that MPI was “choosing to put the interests of these businesses ahead of consumer safety” by failing to to monitor businesses sufficiently.
Strict controls on use
Sulphites and sulphur dioxide are food additives used as a preservative in some foods, though their use in raw meat is outlawed. The additives are only permitted in specified food products, such as sausages, with maximum levels specified.
The chemical can cause serious reactions in certain individuals who are sensitive to them, and due to their potentially serious health effects, their use is strictly controlled.
The illegal use of additives breaches the Food Act 1981 and can result in a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $20,000 for a business.