Fears of new laws 'unwarranted'

PENNY WARDLE
Last updated 12:12 03/01/2012

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Green list MP Steffan Browning, who lives in Marlborough, wants the Government to reopen public consultation on the New Zealand Food Bill, now before Parliament.

A viral internet campaign is feeding mostly unwarranted fears about the proposed bill, Mr Browning said. These include the ability of people to sell produce from their front gate or even swap vegetables with neighbours.

It would be wise for a fresh Parliament to ensure concerns got a good airing rather than just making quick amendments to the bill, he said.

Mr Browning also urged Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson to produce draft changes before the bill's second reading, which would probably be in February.

Submissions on the bill attracted interest from sector groups, but from few members of the public, he said. Public interest had grown through Facebook and other internet campaigns since submissions closed.

The bill was aimed at promoting food safety and was not intended to affect neighbours swapping vegetables or seeds, small gate-sale vendors or people selling solely at farmers' markets. Only edible seeds, such as sunflower seeds, would be covered.

The bill would require large food producers to write food management plans, which could then be audited, Mr Browning said.

Small producers would not have to write plans unless they sold to retailers but would be expected to know about food safety procedures, such as hygiene. Food management plans would come at a cost, Mr Browning said.

However, registered organic producers, commercial kitchens and poultry farmers with more than 100 hens already wrote plans and were audited.

Excluding small producers recognised that lower volumes of food meant lower risk, he said. Any contamination should be easy to trace and only a small number of people would be affected.

Mr Browning does have reservations about some aspects of the bill, including its failure to set a minimum turnover at which food producers would be required to work under food safety plans.

He rejected its proposal that the director-general of agriculture and forestry would have the power to exempt groups, saying this system was too uncertain.

Marlborough Farmers' Market stallholder Ken Gordon said another layer of food safety standards was not needed in New Zealand when fruit and vegetables from countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and China "which are basically grown in effluent" fill supermarket shelves.

He was opposed to the Government controlling "just about every aspect of the food chain. They are trying to fix something that is not broken ... the act is just another form of control with no benefits."

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The bill updates the 30-year-old Food Act, which governs health and safety standards for New Zealand food businesses.

- The Marlborough Express

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