Food Bill threat to civil liberties

Last updated 13:41 12/10/2012

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My first Food Bill article in August outlined how the bill was originally a template written overseas by the United Nations' Food Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

As 90 per cent of FAO funding comes not from member nations like New Zealand but from outside sources such as multinational companies, the risk is that these templates are written by them to further their own interests. This third article comments on enforcement powers around perceived offences. These powers are more about law and trade and favouring corporations, and less about protecting us, the end consumers, or small business in New Zealand.

I believe the Food Bill will erode New Zealand civil liberties. Erosion can occur via a number of mechanisms within the bill. National sovereignty and food sovereignty can be diminished because the powers of the food safety minister may be too wide. Specifically, one statement allows unfettered scope. I would like to see all 43 repetitions of this sentence removed: “. . . the Governor-General may, by Order in Council made on the recommendation of the minister, make regulations . . .”

The best example of this is Section 355, where they are “ . . . declaring anything to be food for the purposes of this act . . . ” There is nothing relating to food that the minister would not be able to change, thus rendering even the Food Bill document itself unnecessary. Once the Food Bill is passed into law, the food safety minister can freely make any subsequent changes deemed necessary.

Remember Kate Wilkinson stating that seed-sharing restrictions will be deleted from the bill? Section 355 could allow future powers to limit seed sharing: The minister is empowered by the Food Bill to effectively change anything by way of regulation.

Our Bill of Rights protects us against unreasonable search or seizure. "Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure, whether of the person, property, or correspondence or otherwise.” Yet, the Food Bill appears to contradict this section in the Bill of Rights, weakening or reducing Kiwi civil liberties through extensive powers granted to food safety officers. How is this possible? There are plenty of these contradicting examples in the Food Bill. Some are:

Section 322: Unlike the police and the rest of NZ'ers, food safety officers would have immunity from civil and criminal liability. Section 275: “A food safety officer may enter a place described in subsection (2) without a search warrant and may use any force that is reasonable for the purposes of entry and search.” Section 243: Food safety officers do not need to be NZ State employees.

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Big Agribusiness (Monsanto et al) employees with clear commercial conflicts-of-interest could be employed as officers.

This could allow the people charged with policing these Food Bill laws - (possibly not New Zealanders) - to be above the same Bill of Rights of New Zealand.

Section 265: Allows the potential use of guns. Section 272: Allows an officer to exclude a particular person from all or part of a place, including from their own home if their home business is deemed in breach of any aspect of the bill.

To me, the Food Bill is written as if big business has already been put firmly in the driving seat to the potential detriment of our national sovereignty, the loss of local control over local food and the weakening of our civil rights.

  • Going Green is a fortnightly column contributed through the Nelson Environment Centre. This is Janet Whittington's third article on the Food Bill.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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