Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson says opponents of the Government’s draft Food Bill are scaremongering about its impacts.
"Much of what they claim is untrue and causing many people unnecessary concern," Ms Wilkinson says.
“The Bill is designed to simplify 30-year-old food safety regulations and ultimately aims to reduce our high level of food-borne illness and corresponding economic cost. It’s estimated food-borne illness caused a $162 million loss to the New Zealand economy in 2010."
“The current system is prescriptive and based on rules and inspections – which are often costly to food businesses. The new regime will create efficiencies for traders and improve food safety.
Ms Wilkinson says the Bill’s opponents are whipping up fears that small traders such as community gardens, food co-ops, heritage seed banks, farmers markets, bake sales and roadside fruit and vegetable stalls will be caught up in costly red tape.
“That is simply not true. This Bill won’t in any way affect people’s right to grow food and to then exchange, sell or trade it.
“Small traders such as those running roadside stalls or selling their own horticultural produce at markets are generally classed as low risk and will not need to register. They will simply receive a free ‘food handler guidance’ information pamphlet.
“Food grown at home for personal or family consumption, or given away to friends is excluded from the measures in the Bill,” Ms Wilkinson says.
The new regime will have three regulatory levels of safety based on risk, with those food businesses classed as high risk (such as restaurants or baby food manufacturers) having the highest level of requirements. Businesses presenting a medium level risk (such as bakeries and pre-packaged food processors) would be subject to national programmes (a more flexible and generic approach), with those presenting low risk receiving food handler guidance.
The draft Bill has been through a full public consultation process and has been passed by Parliament’s Primary Production Select Committee with cross-party support.
"This is an important piece of legislation and I am conscious that Labour and the Greens have new Food Safety spokesmen. I am more than happy to meet with these parties to discuss the Bill and any concerns they have to ensure that it delivers what we all want - safer food and a reduction in illness, without increasing compliance costs to industry."
"The Bill is intended to modernise and enhance our domestic food safety regime - not over-regulate it.
“I encourage people to visit www.foodsafety.govt.nz to read what the Bill actually contains, and not to listen to the scaremongering from some of the Bill’s opponents.”
Food Bill – Questions & answers
1. Is there currently a Food Act in New Zealand?
Yes. It is the Food Act 1981, which is now 30 years old and needs updating. This covers all food for sale in New Zealand. The main purpose is to ensure that the food people buy is safe to eat.
The Food Bill focuses on food for sale and profit, not the trade of home-grown food between neighbours or within a community.
2. When was the Food Bill first released to the public and when will it become law?
The Food Bill was introduced to Parliament on 26 May 2010. It has been through a public submission process and is now waiting to proceed through the House. There is no set date on when it will be passed by the House and become law.
3. Has there been consultation with consumers on the Food Bill?
Yes. The NZFSA (now part of MAF) has actively consulted with consumers from 2007-2010 on the domestic Food Review and the Food Bill. This consultation has included forums and consumer groups, discussion papers and submissions.
The NZFSA website and publications have also been used to support consultation. Consumer enquiries by phone and email up until 2010 numbered 1670 and there have been 73,596 page views for the Food Control Plan, Food Bill and the Domestic and Food Review.
4. Were propagation food seeds unintentionally captured by the Food Bill and what happens when such examples are found?
Yes. Propagation food seeds were unintentionally captured by the Food Bill. When this came to the Government’s attention, the Minister directed officials to amend the definition of food to ensure propagation food seeds would not be captured by the Food Bill.
When activities are identified as being unintentionally captured, the Chief Executive of MAF has powers under the Food Bill to exempt certain activities from all or any requirements of the Act.
5. What are the current rules around bartering or swapping food?
The Food Bill will apply to food that is sold, or bartered on a commercial basis. The Food Act 1981 currently includes barter in the definition of sale. This definition has not prevented this activity from freely taking place between individual members of the community, that is, those that are not in business.
If bartering was excluded, it would be possible for some commercial food operations to avoid their regulatory responsibilities.
6. Does the Food Bill stop neighbours and communities bartering or swapping food?
No. It is an age old Kiwi tradition for people to grow food for themselves and swap their excess with friends or neighbours. The Food Bill will not prevent this tradition from continuing.
7. How will fundraising galas and sausage sizzles be treated under the Food Bill?
Charitable and community events such as sausage sizzles, home bake sales, and other fund raising events may still occur without requiring registration provided they are held no more than 20 times a year (by a charity or an individual). Fundraising activities can continue as they always have. This is an important part of Kiwi culture that the Bill protects.
Organisers of these activities will simply be provided with access to 'food handler guidance' tips and advice on how to ensure food sold to others is safe to eat.
8. Will fundraisers or those bartering or swapping food be required to register anywhere?
No. Those running fundraising activities or bartering and swapping food are not currently required to register and this will not change under the Food Bill.
9. Do producers of jams and pickles have to register?
Commercial producers of jams and pickles will be subject to a national programme level 2. They will be required to register their operation and undergo occasional verifications at a frequency that reflects the level of risk.
However, those who simply produce jams and pickles for school galas and fundraisers will not have to under-go any sort of registration.
10. Will the Food Bill allow for exemptions?
Yes, it will be difficult for the Bill to capture all aspects involved in the sale and production of food. The Chief Executive of MAF will have the ability to exempt a person/business or class of persons.
A small jam maker could apply for an exemption and operate instead under food handler guidance with a general obligation to sell safe and suitable food.
11. How will people access information and advice on the safe preparation of food?
Information will be provided as 'food handler guidance' tips and advice provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry free of charge on the website, and via territorial authorities throughout the country.
12. What powers do Food Safety Officers (FSOs) have?
There are very clear guidelines set out in the Food Bill for FSOs entering a premise with a search warrant (sections 289-298).
The Food Bill only allows FSOs to access and enter the areas of premises where the food is being prepared. There is no provision in the Bill for FSOs to be armed.
If entering a place without a search warrant, the owner or occupier of the place must be given reasonable oral or written notice by the FSO unless giving notice would defeat the purpose, or the place is owned or occupied by the Crown.
13. Are FSOs immune from prosecution?
The principles and provisions of the Bill in regards to immunity from criminal and civil liability are substantively the same as those provided for in the existing Food Act 1981 which have been in use for over thirty years.
Clause 322 of the Food Bill states that FSOs are protected from civil or criminal liability for any act that the person does, or omits to do, if the act is part of their functions or duties under the Bill, or they are exercising their powers under those duties.
The FSOs must act in good faith and with reasonable cause. Failure to do so means they are no longer immune from prosecution and they can also be sued.
There are similar provisions in the Animal Products Act 1999, the Biosecurity Act 1993 and the Commerce Act 1986 among others, so this in not radical or new.