Growing unease over the contents of the poorly drafted Food Bill warrants allowing further public submissions, a Green MP says.
Submissions on the bill closed in September 2010, but a Facebook petition that says the bill "will seriously impede initiatives like community gardens, food co-ops, heritage seed banks, farmers markets, bake sales, and roadside fruit & vegetable stalls" had attracted more than 27,000 signatures in the past four months.
The bill updates the Food Act 1981. Its main purpose is to ensure that the food people buy is safe to eat.
Introduced into Parliament in May 2010, the bill has been considered by a select committee but is yet to proceed to its second reading – meaning it still has several hurdles to jump before becoming law.
Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson has said the bill had inadvertently captured activities it should not have and she had sought advice on amendments to ensure seed banks and an employment system used by organic food producers – Willing Workers on Organic Farms (Wwoofers) – were not disrupted.
Green MP Steffan Browning, a member of the seven-strong primary production select committee, said he would raise the possibility of having the select committee submission period reopened.
"I think there is concern at the level of public concern and there is a feeling it may be useful to get a bit more feedback."
He said members of the select committee considering the original bill had been so busy responding to the submissions they received that they did not consider some of the implications contained in the bill.
"There will definitely be changes to the bill from its first reading as some shortcomings were not picked up in the select committee process or at the first reading."
Some fears were unwarranted as "we have an assurance we can be confident about. With seed saving, for example, we can be confident seeds intended for gardening and agriculture won't be caught up in the Food Bill," he said.
"Some people signing the petition have been told that so I'm unsure why they persist suggesting that," he said.
Labour's primary industries spokesman, Damien O'Connor, who is also on the committee, said his party would not support the bill unless areas had been clarified.
"I have asked the select committee for a full update on the bill, including any changes the Government is planning for [it]," Mr O'Connor said.
"We do not want to see New Zealand end up with some unwieldy piece of legislation that confuses the retailers and those working in this area, particularly those working in volunteer or community settings."
Mr Browning said there were different requirements for different-sized food producers and he felt these needed to be reset at a higher level to ensure demands on smaller producers were not unnecessarily onerous.
- The Dominion Post
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