The Food Bill Special Edition
Over the summer period there has been one issue that seems to be concerning people more than most. I know that there have been some fears in the community about the effects of the Food Bill. I want to take the opportunity here to set out the purpose and effect of this Bill and hopefully reassure people who have become concerned.
I realise that some will be questioning why this change is taking place. The Food Bill is designed to update the current 30-year old food safety regulations. The purpose of the Bill is to create a more efficient system for traders and to cut down on the red tape that they currently experience. At present over half of local councils have developed various solutions to address holes in the current Food Act. The new Bill will largely remove the need for these individual local bylaws.
The Food Bill also intends to reduce the high level of food-borne illness in New Zealand. I was surprised to hear that in 2010 the cost to the New Zealand economy due to food-borne illness was estimated to be as high as $162 million. That is just under $450,000 per day!
I’m sure most people would agree that a more streamlined system with less cost for taxpayers and less illness for consumers would be a good result. There are however a number of myths out there about how the Bill seeks to achieve this. I would like to address those myths one by one.
Firstly, the good old fashioned Kiwi tradition of refuelling with a sausage sizzle during a particularly long shopping trip is not under threat. Charitable and community activities such as sausage sizzles, bake sales or other fundraising events are specifically protected in the Food Bill. Operators will not have to register as long as they are not holding their event more than 20 times per year.
Another New Zealand past time to remain unaffected is sharing the over-flowing fruit and veges from your garden. The Food Bill applies to food that is sold, or bartered on a commercial basis. If you are in the habit of exchanging your spare tomatoes for your neighbour’s abundant peaches then you need not worry, this Bill will do nothing to stop that. Food that you grow and eat yourself is not covered by the Food Bill nor is anything you give to friends and family.
Myth number three relates to Propagation Seeds. It is true that these were unintentionally captured under the Food Bill but the Minister has since ordered the Bill to be amended to ensure that they are excluded. In the future, if activities are identified as being accidentally included under the Bill, there is provision for the Chief Executive of MAF to exempt those activities.
Finally, I know there has been some concern over how the regulations in the Food Bill are to be enforced. There is absolutely no provision in the Food Bill for Food Safety Officers to be armed. They will operate under similar provisions to those which already exist in our law including the Animal Products Act 1999, the Biosecurity Act 1993 and the Commerce Act 1986.
Under the Food Bill a new structure will be set up with three levels of regulation. These levels will be based on risk. Businesses whose activities are considered high risk (eg, baby food manufacturers and restaurants) will have the highest level of requirements.
Companies which are considered a medium risk (eg. bakeries and pre-packaged food processors) will have a more flexible and generic national programme to manage that risk.
At the lowest level a free ‘food handling guidance’ pamphlet will be provided. This will apply to places such as small bed and breakfasts and people selling their own produce at farmers’ markets.
I hope this information has put to rest any concerns that you or your family may have. If you would like more information about the Food Bill you can visit http://www.foodsafety.govt.nz/.