Food Bill change leaves growers in dark

21:56, Jan 05 2012

Farmers' market and small-scale food producers in South Canterbury are in the dark over the effects of the Food Bill before Parliament.

Submissions on the bill closed in September 2010, but in the past four months more than 27,000 people have signed a Facebook petition against it on the grounds the bill would impede "initiatives like community gardens, food co-ops, heritage seed banks, farmers' markets, bake sales and roadside fruit and vegetable stalls".

Writers of letters to The Timaru Herald this week have also raised concerns that the law would be policed by enforcement officers with far-reaching powers.

Farmers' market manager Chris Bush said he had followed developments in the bill since its first reading in July 2010.

"I was pretty happy and I think most people were pretty happy with the original Food Bill."

However, he understood amendments had been made to the bill since New Zealand's participation at a (fair trade) Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) meeting between nations in the Asia-Pacific region in November. Mr Bush said he would like to know what those amendments were and where they had come from.

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The purpose of the bill was to address and reform the law relating to trading in food to ensure safety of food for sale in New Zealand.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson said no changes had been made to the bill since it was reported back to the House.

A date for its second reading had not been set yet and the bill had been waiting for the last year.

The spokesman said amendments to the bill were being drafted and would be presented as a Supplementary Order Paper and debated after the bill's second reading.

Mr Bush said the bill was confusing for everyone and he was unable to say what its impact – if it is passed – could be on the local community because he did not know.

"It opens a lot of doors for things further down the road – that may be bad or may be good.

"The way I understand it the bill makes growing your own food a privilege and no longer a right and they have to do that to do some other tinkering in the bill."

Mr Bush said there would not be "food police out there trying to pull out your tomatoes".

However, the effect of the bill was to make growing food a privilege so that later on government could do whatever it wanted.

"That's wrong. That's not the role of government," Mr Bush said.

Both he and small-scale organic farmer Nathan Davis, of Treehuggers in St Andrews, supported a call by Green MP Steffan Browning that the submission period be reopened.

However, that looks unlikely.

Ms Wilkinson's spokesman said at this stage it was not something the minister was considering.

"There was a full consultation period where they took public submissions. I think the fears people are worrying about are unfounded," he said.

Like Mr Bush, Mr Davis had concerns about the bill. In particular the effect it might have on small-scale growers and on issues surrounding the "governorship of seeds", but was also wary of scaremongering and misinformation leading to unwarranted fears in the community.

The Timaru Herald