Political stoush over Food Bill

A row has broken out over new food regulations with Cabinet minister Kate Wilkinson accusing the Greens of ''endorsing misinformation'' to chase votes.

Green Party MP Sue Kedgley said this morning that home gardeners, people who barter or swap food, sell food directly to consumers, and small growers, should be exempt from rules imposed by a new Food Bill.

Wilkinson hit back, saying the legislation - due to have a second reading after the election - does not affect small growers or bartering.

"For some time anonymous agitators have been spreading false information on the internet regarding the Food Bill and despite initially countering their views, Sue Kedgley has now buckled in order to chase their votes because it is an election year,'' she said.

"Small growers who share or trade their produce with neighbours or who sell direct to consumers have nothing to fear from the new Food Bill. They will not face costs of any kind, or require to be registered.''

She said the bill was aimed at revamping 30-year-old legislation. ''It is about ensuring that people who sell and prepare food do so safely.''

"Bartering is already covered under the current Food Act and occurs freely in New Zealand communities. This will not change.

"The new Food Bill is about modernising legislation that is now 30-years-old. 

"Unfortunately a small minority have decided the Bill is some sort of global corporate conspiracy designed to take control of the food chain and will lead to armed police storming the homes of private gardeners.

"Obviously this is rubbish and the Green Party, having earlier worked with the Government and supported the Bill through select committee, is now irresponsibly encouraging these views by spreading misinformation for political means.''

Kedgley said there was ''growing public concern'' that new rules would result in ''excessive regulations and restrictions.''  It was ''bureaucratic and unnecessary'' to impose regulations on home gardeners and those who swap food.

She called on the minister to allay these fears and said the Greens would be unlikely to support the bill if home gardeners and small growers weren't exempted.

"We should be doing everything we can to encourage people to grow and swap food, not discourage local food production by imposing potentially onerous regulations on home gardeners.

"For economic and health reasons we should be supporting community gardens, farmers markets, community supported agriculture, bartering and food swapping, and any other system of local food production that helps improve the country's food security and resilience."

Under the Food Bill manufacturers, sellers, traders and importers will have a duty to ensure their operations result in the ''provision of safe and suitable food.'' Those preparing food must be able to demonstrate that they carry out safe food handling practices.