Call to tighten rules on imported foods

AL WILLIAMS
Last updated 05:00 13/10/2012

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New Zealand lacks a proactive monitoring system for measuring the quality of imported food, a leading researcher says.

The comment by Consumer New Zealand researcher Jessica Wilson follows yesterday's Timaru Herald story about imported food items.

A Herald reader suggested a bottle of Coca-Cola purchased at the Warehouse was not "the real thing" because it was labelled, "Exclusively for sale in Vietnam, Exports are not authorised."

The Herald found that the cartons were labelled in English and displayed the ingredients and other details. Labelling complied with New Zealand requirements.

Ms Wilson said there was no robust regulatory system for monitoring the quality of imported food. "One of our concerns is that the regulatory system hasn't been robust in terms of product safety.

"Resources are not being put into active monitoring to identify products before they cause problems."

She said importers decided whether to test their products. "The responsibility is on the importer to meet requirements in terms of food safety."

Current monitoring was reactive, she said. "There needs to be a robust regulatory system in terms of monitoring. We need a more proactive monitoring system.

"If a consumer has issues regarding food standards then the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) would be the first point of contact." The ministry is responsible for food safety standards.

A spokesperson confirmed importers were responsible for ensuring food was safe, suitable and within regulatory requirements.

"Where we are alerted to an imported product for sale in New Zealand that does not comply with relevant requirements, we raise the issue with the retailer; it is their responsibility to work with their importer to deal with the issue and ensure future compliance.

"There are a number of high-risk foods that are listed on an MPI prescribed foods list; these foods are subject to border clearance before they can be released on to the New Zealand market.

"There is a book thicker than the Bible on New Zealand and Australian food safety standards," the spokesperson said.

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- The Timaru Herald

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