Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister for Food Safety)
: I move,
That the Food Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the Food Bill be considered by the Primary Production Committee.
This bill restates and reforms the law relating to trading in food in order to achieve the safety and suitability of all food for sale in New Zealand. It does this by providing for risk-based measures that minimise and manage the risks to public health and by requiring the persons who trade in food to take primary responsibility for its safety and suitability. The bill also provides certainty for food businesses in terms of their obligations and of how their activities will be regulated.
The food industry is vital to the New Zealand economy. It comprises 35,000 to 40,000 manufacturing, importing, retailing, and service businesses, and up to 200,000 additional part-time food premises. It also provides jobs for 20 percent of the working population.
The retail value of food and beverages is an estimated $13.8 billion per annum, and the food service sector—restaurants, cafes, and the like—has been valued at an estimated $5 billion. New Zealand’s food sector accounts for at least 10 percent of gross domestic product.
The export revenue from food products and food ingredients produced in New Zealand is estimated to be $15 billion per annum. This means that food exports represent more than 50 percent of the total merchandise exports from New Zealand.
Significantly for an export-led recovery for New Zealand, the domestic food regulatory regime is the platform for exports. The New Zealand domestic standard is used as the basis for negotiating access arrangements with our trading partners. This can minimise the often excessive importing-country requirements that may be imposed but which do not go towards food safety.
The bill will replace the Food Act 1981, which, at nearly 30 years old, is outdated and inefficient. As a consequence, the Food Act 1981 and its subordinate legislation—in particular, the Food Hygiene Regulations 1974—have led to considerable inconsistency in application across New Zealand, they have resulted in the imposition of unnecessary compliance costs, and they do not do enough to protect consumers or to reduce food-borne illnesses. None the less, the Food Bill maintains those aspects of the current regulatory regime that work well. For example, it maintains the role of the Government as the principal regulator, it retains a local government role in the regulation of food premises, and there remains a role for independent third parties to act as verifiers for food businesses.
The bill seeks to reduce the prescriptive nature of the existing system and to move to an outcomes-based regulatory regime. The new regime will require all food businesses to apply the risk-based measure assigned to their sector. The bill provides for a number of different risk-based measures. This will allow food businesses to be regulated relative to the degree of risk that a particular sector or food-selling activity generally poses. For example, a baked goods fund-raiser will no longer have the same regulatory requirements that a bakery has.
The bill proposes four risk-based measures. The most comprehensive of these in terms of compliance requirements is the food control plan, and the least comprehensive is the food-handler guidance. The food-handler guidance is an educative measure for the food safety information that is particular to a food-selling activity. Food-handler guidance will be prepared by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and provided directly to territorial authorities and relevant sectors. Those operating under the food-handler guidance will need to meet the requirement only of preparing or selling safe and suitable food. They will not be subject to any specific regulatory requirements.
The bill will also introduce specific and, in part, new requirements for imported food. All persons importing food will have the duty to ensure that the imported food delivers the same safety and suitability outcomes and meets the same standards that apply to domestically produced food. Furthermore, every consignment of food imported into New Zealand will now require a registered importer. The bill contains a regulation-making power relating the categorisation of imported food and the particular criteria that can be applied to each category.
The combined effect of the provisions on the face of the Food Bill and the regulation-making powers will be the establishment of a comprehensive imported foods framework. The framework is capable of closely regulating and controlling food imports. It will ensure rapid responses to the specific risks that a particular food or food from a particular source might pose before that food enters the New Zealand food supply. Furthermore, the framework places specific duties and obligations on the persons involved in the importation of food.
Many food businesses will be required to be verified against their allocated risk-based measure. The amount of verification required will depend on the risk-based measure assigned to a particular sector. The bill enables the chief executive to recognise and approve both the public and private agencies and persons to conduct these verifications.
The role of territorial authorities has been maintained and clarified. Among other functions, territorial authorities will operate as a registration authority and an enforcement agency for certain food businesses. A territorial authority may also become a recognised agency and may conduct the verification of food businesses. It is anticipated that territorial authorities will have a 5-year window in which they will have the exclusive right to verify certain food businesses. This will help provide a degree of continuity for those businesses that are currently subject to territorial authority inspection. The bill will maintain the capacity in territorial authorities to undertake the full range of food safety and related activities, and it will reduce transaction costs for businesses in relation to compliance and enforcement, particularly during the transition period. The bill will also enable the Minister, subject to appropriate consultation, to set national outcomes relating to the performance of territorial authorities in carrying out their functions, duties, and powers.
The bill continues the current provisions relating to the recovery of costs that are not directly or indirectly met by the Crown. The provisions require the Minister and the chief executive to take all reasonable steps to recover the costs associated with administering the new Food Act. New provisions for cost recovery also set out those functions and duties for which territorial authorities may recover costs. The bill will also require that any cost recovery undertaken must be equitable, efficient, justifiable, and transparent.
The bill modernises the enforcement and offence provisions, and it substantially increases the penalties from those set almost 30 years ago. The low penalties currently available under the Food Act 1981 have been the subject of judicial comment in the past, with one judge describing them as archaic. A number of cases over the years have involved serious harm and risk to consumers.
This bill sends the clear message that the Government is serious about food safety by ensuring that the available penalties are appropriate to the 21st century food-trading environment. For example, under the Food Act 1981, a prosecution for selling food that is unsound or unfit for human consumption or that is contaminated can involve a maximum penalty of $5,000 for an individual. Under this bill, a person convicted of a
comparable offence could expect, at the maximum, a penalty of 2 years’ imprisonment and a $100,000 fine. A body corporate committing the same offence under this bill could receive a monetary penalty of up to $500,000.
The bill also contains regulation, standard, and notice-making powers. Of particular importance is the ability for the Minister to adopt joint food standards to give effect to New Zealand’s obligations under the Australia - New Zealand joint food agreement. There is also the ability to adopt domestic-only food standards for those limited and exceptional circumstances in which New Zealand might need to opt out of a joint food standard.
I commend this bill to the House.
Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour)
: It is quite interesting to see Kate Wilkinson speaking in the first reading debate on the Food Bill. I am not really sure who the Minister for Food Safety is at this stage, because the Food Safety Authority was merged into the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on 1 July. It is still not clear who is running the show on the Food Bill. Is it the Minister of Agriculture or is it the Minister of Conservation, who is also the Minister of Labour?
Hon Darren Hughes: Who would know?
Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY: Who would know? This Minister, Kate Wilkinson, has mucked up the 90-day bill she introduced, and she has mucked up the lives of many workers in New Zealand. This is the same Minister who was rolled over by Mr Brownlee in the mining area. The Minister of Conservation has been part of that mining plan in association with Mr Brownlee.
This bill refers to imported and exported food in New Zealand. In New Zealand, our main business is food. We produce food for about 60 million people. Of course, we consume a very small proportion of that food. We have about $20 billion worth of food that is exported and about $22 billion worth of estimated annual turnover in the food area. We employ over 20 percent of the workforce in the food area—that is, in production, processing, retail, and all that. So it is very important employment for New Zealand. It is very important for New Zealand’s exports, as well as for the social fabric of society. This bill is an important bill that has been in preparation for a number of years. Looking back, I have to acknowledge the good work done by Lianne Dalziel, a former Minister for Food Safety, and Annette King, who had been in the forefront of preparing this bill and doing the background work for a number of years. The bill has now come to the House after a number of years of preparation.
I say that we support this bill being sent to select committee. We will have the opportunity in select committee to receive submissions from the wider sector. I hope the chairman of the Primary Production Committee will give submitters the opportunity to have plenty of time to submit on this bill, because this bill is, as the Minister just said, a major review after 30 years. The bill is huge. At about 400 clauses, it is a big bill. I think we need to give plenty of time for the submitters, whether they are in manufacturing, retail, exporting, or importing. I think we have to give enough time for people to submit on the bill.
We welcome the introduction of this bill. When we were in the office, we were proactive in recognising the shortfalls under the existing food regulations. We initiated the domestic food review, which identified the major problem of food-borne illnesses we have in New Zealand. Clearly, 18,000 cases of intestinal illness a year, with 1,000 of those requiring hospitalisation, is completely unacceptable. The review also identified the confusion resulting from three different food regimes and three different regulations operating simultaneously. Labour oversaw the first draft of the Food Bill, which we now see introduced to Parliament. We support changes to improve business certainty and to ensure that compliance costs are kept to a minimum. Given the current economic
situation, it makes sense that food businesses that are subject to food control plans have the ability to sign up to a generic template that covers the whole sector.
There are, as the Minister said, a number of key tools in this bill that are important. As the Minister highlighted, one of the key areas is the food control plans. These plans are particularly related to high-risk businesses, like restaurants. Every restaurant around the country and similar businesses will have to have food control plans. Secondly, there has to be a national programme for the lower to medium-risk businesses—for example, horticulture producers and meat producers. Those areas, which are in the low to medium-risk business category, will have to have some kind of national programme. Thirdly, we need to have food-handler guidance, particularly educational information for low-risk operators who, for example, do fundraising events like sausage sizzles, as the Minister mentioned before. We have to have some kind of guidance and information provided to those people. Fourthly, we must monitor programmes to determine safety and suitability of food. Those are four tools in the armoury of this bill to ensure that we have suitable and appropriate food for New Zealanders and for exporters.
I come to a couple of specific areas. In terms of food plans, we support the concept of a schedule to establish those high-risk businesses subject to food control plans, those medium to low-risk businesses that will comply to a national programme, and those low-risk operations, such as fundraising activities, that will have food-handling guidance through education will suffice. We will be seeking a guarantee on that point that this bill will have no impact on the cake-stall holders or the sausage sizzlers. I am particularly worried because clause 93(2)(b)—and I highlighted this earlier in a question to the Minister—states that a person or food business that is subject to food-handler guidance is liable to prosecution if they fail to comply with those requirements, as it is an offence against the Act. There are issues like that, and there are some fishhooks that we still need to look at. I am sure that some of those issues will come through at the select committee and we will look at the details.
In terms of the costs to the operators, we need to pay close attention to any increased cost incurred. According to documents released to Labour under the Official Information Act, fees in Dunedin have already jumped by $300 for some operators after territorial authorities raised their charges when they found their current charges inadequate. We also note that in the interim many territorial authorities have eased up on forcing compliance because they know the new legislation is coming. We hope that when the new legislation begins to impact, and the adjustments are made, it does not bite too hard on the small operators that have been disadvantaged through the economic recession. In relation to importers, I think this bill is very important for imported food. I am personally really concerned about some of the food we import, particularly from some developing countries where food regulations and hygiene are not very good. This bill will hopefully take care of some of those issues that we face every day in small shops like dairies.
The Food Bill requires every consignment of food to be imported by a registered importer. I think it is very good that those importers should be registered, whether directly or as an agent for a person importing food. The bill requires the chief executive to keep and maintain a public register of registered importers. I think that is very good. There should be a register for people importing food. These requirements do not exist currently, and they will enable more effective communication with, and targeting of, importers in situations that present risk, and when otherwise necessary. In the final analysis, I say that we will be very keen to pay particularly close attention to some of the costs incurred, to ensure that there are not too onerous problems for the Kiwi sausage sizzlers, and to address those kinds of issues.
SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country)
: I rise in support of the Food Bill. I thank the Minister for Food Safety for showing confidence in the Primary Production Committee by suggesting that later on she will move that this bill be referred to that committee. I also assure the previous speaker, Ashraf Choudhary, that in the Primary Production Committee there will be a fair, open process, and we will give submitters fair time to submit. I think it is in the best interests of the whole of Parliament to get this bill right.
As the Minister said in her opening comments, 200,000 small businesses across New Zealand are involved in the food selling and catering business—a domestic economy of $5 billion. Of course, as an export nation—and New Zealand is an export nation—well over 50 percent of our exports come from primary sector industries, despite figures that Treasury constantly puts out. Most of those primary sector exports are food in some form or another. It is essential that New Zealand get this right.
As the Minister said, a few issues need to be addressed. It is substantial legislation. We have had for some time in this country a whole range of different bits of legislation, many of them outdated. The Food Act itself dates back to 1981. There are also, of course, the food hygiene regulations from 1974, the Animal Products Act 1999, the Wine Act 2003, and many, many others that I am sure will be impacted by the passing of this bill and the work that the select committee does in terms of how that interface takes place.
The previous speaker mentioned an issue that comes up politically all the time—he will make a fine contribution, I hasten to add, on the select committee. He has a science background, a Massey University background, and a whole life experience in the production, I guess, of food.
One of the issues that come up all the time and that was raised by the previous speaker is the issue of the school barbecue, the fund-raising event, the cake stall, and that kind of thing. We must ensure in our endeavours to make sure that we are thorough in our work around food safety and the marketing and sale of food, both domestically and internationally, but that we do not put in place a whole lot of costly compliance and regulation, and unintended consequences for those who want to be involved in community activities such as the school barbecue or, in the rural electorates, the school calf day. Unfortunately, the State has a bit of a reputation of being heavy-handed, over the top, and sometimes ridiculous in the compliance requirements that it places on those people. Putting in place a framework that can accommodate both that and also imported and exported food so that we absolutely guarantee our “100% Pure New Zealand” brand, which is so valuable to us—in fact, it is the No. 1 brand for New Zealand—is an essential piece of work for the Government and the select committee to carry out.
The number of reported cases of illness in New Zealand in recent years related to food-borne bacteria or diseases has been too high. So there is a need for a stringent framework around those who work with and handle food, and who work within the food industry in the catering of food for domestic consumption, etc. At the same time, our integrity internationally is at risk if we do not make sure that food exported from New Zealand meets the highest possible international standard that it is reasonable to expect an exporting nation to meet.
There have been a number of claims—I know that as a constituent MP I field them regularly—that the compliance costs placed on our exporters, because we are very determined to maintain the integrity around the “100% Pure New Zealand” brand, are such that it seems unfair that importers of food into New Zealand do not appear to have to meet that standard. I do not know whether that is factual, but it is often asserted. This is an opportunity, I guess, for those who feel as though they have evidence that there is a double standard in terms of what one must do to export from New Zealand, as
opposed to competitors for that same product importing into New Zealand, to bring forward their claims and substantiate them. If they are proven to be correct, I am sure there will be an opportunity to highlight some of that in the process that we have before us.
This is a very important piece of work that Parliament will undertake. I suspect it is one of those pieces of work that will go on below the radar, but one never knows. I give Parliament the assurance that the Primary Production Committee will carry out its work in a thorough, open, transparent, and fair way. All of those who are involved in the process will no doubt have their opportunity to participate in it. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute today. This is a fine piece of work, and I look forward to it going through the Parliament.
IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North)
: It gives me a lot of pleasure to rise and speak this afternoon on the Food Bill. At first glance it looks like a fairly technical bill, but nevertheless it has very important flow-on effects into other areas of legislation. It was very good to see the Minister for Food Safety get up and speak. She sounded so confident. I think she feels very secure in this area; it is a bit of a change from earlier in the week. It is nice to see the Minister looking so positive and secure on this Thursday afternoon after what has been, it has to be said, a bit of a rough week for her.
It is also nice to speak following the previous speaker, Mr Ardern. He is a good chair of a good select committee, the Primary Production Committee. It was nice to hear that he was talking about an open and inclusive process—a bipartisan process, I am sure. I know that one of the members opposite, Sandra Goudie, is on that committee. She could learn a thing or two from Mr Ardern. Lately she has had a few problems on the select committee she chairs, the Law and Order Committee. There have been a few walk-outs by Opposition members due to the totally partisan, unfair, and opaque system that she has been running in that committee. Maybe those two members could sit down over a wine tonight and have a discussion about their relative positions.
This bill provides a regulatory framework to enable businesses to take primary responsibility for the sale of safe and suitable food. Food businesses will be regulated relative to the degree of risk posed by the food-selling activity that they are engaged in. A number of risk management tools are included in this bill: food control plans for high-risk businesses such as restaurants; national programmes for medium to low-risk businesses, such as horticulture producers; food-handling guidance and educational information for low-risk operators, such as those engaged in fund-raising activities like cake stalls and sausage sizzles, which probably every member in this House has been engaged in; and monitoring programmes, set by regulation, to impose measures in specific circumstances for determining the safety and suitability of food.
The bill provides certainty for our food businesses in terms of their obligations under the law and how activities will be regulated. It introduces specific requirements for imported food. All persons importing food will have a duty to ensure that it meets the same standards as domestically produced food, and every consignment of food imported into New Zealand requires a registered importer. Importantly, this bill maintains the role of Government as the principal regulator. I think it is very important that we note that. It retains a local government role in the regulation of food premises. The bill has modernised the penalty provisions. The current provisions are out of date and inadequate for 2010 and beyond, so that is an improvement. It sets out exactly what the base statutory requirements will be for each type of food and trading activity.
Basically, the bill takes a whole range of things that have been in different pieces of legislation, tidies them up, and brings them into one Act so that things are clear and understandable for the people who are operating within the framework of this bill.
Labour is absolutely supportive of this bill, as our previous speakers have indicated. Of course, Labour initiated this process when it was in Government, which is no doubt why the Minister feels so secure about it. It is a good, robust, and solid process that was started by the Labour Government, unlike some of the dodgier, more interesting things that the Minister has initiated under the National Government. I think Labour was proactive in recognising the shortfalls in the existing food regulations. Back in 2003 Labour initiated a domestic food review. That review revealed a number of shortfalls relating to the complexity of the regulations and the difficulty with enforcement. Although most food is controlled under the Food Act, other food is regulated under the Animal Products Act 1999, the Wine Act 2003, and the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act 1997. We have a whole host of regulations under those Acts as well, so bringing everything into alignment under this one Act makes a lot of sense.
A number of food premises are covered by the Food Hygiene Regulations 1974 and are inspected by territorial local authorities. Some businesses are exempt from this process because they have opted out and shifted into a voluntary food programme. These operators, more often than not, are supermarkets and manufacturers. They will probably be ahead of the game here; they will be prepared for this bill when it is enacted. These food safety programmes are administered by public health units and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. Again, bringing everything into alignment under one Act makes a lot of sense. There has been a lot of inconsistency, duplication, and complexity. Many operators apparently have not been aware that the Food Act 1981 existed, let alone known who administered it.
I will just reflect on a news story that came out of Palmerston North in the last few days. One of those people who may have been struggling with the food regulations is a character known as the naked pie man. He is a well-known celebrity in Palmerston North. He owns the Central Pie and Smoke Shop, which is just up the road from Bootleggers—a popular student establishment. The naked pie man has been in Palmerston North for a number of years. In fact, it has been so long that I can remember him from my student days at Massey University. I have been a customer of the naked pie man. The 2 or 3 a.m. pie just before jumping into a taxi to head home is a nice alternative to a kebab.
The naked pie man has come into a bit of strife in the past few days. He was the only operator in Palmerston North to receive a D grading for his food-handling service. Apparently, it all came down to a few lost bits of paperwork and a few hiccups in the process, which he did not quite understand. Hopefully this legislation will make things a little bit more streamlined for our naked pie man and he will be able to get his rating back up to something a little bit more respectable. To be fair, he will have to display that D rating, but to be honest I do not think the students will be put off very much. I do not think his business will suffer too much. But it is buyer beware, and everyone who walks into his shop will know that he has a D rating. I am quite sure that good, streamlined legislation like this will assist in getting him back on track.
It is important that we have food safety and food-handling regulations because there is a massive number of cases of intestinal illness each year; it is estimated to be about 18,000 cases every year. Of those cases, 1,000 require hospitalisation, which is not bad out of 18,000. I suspect that a few more cases than that probably require people to go to their general practitioner. We know that an awful lot of those cases cause people to need a few days off work. In fact, workplace absenteeism due to illnesses relating to poor food hygiene is estimated to cost about $86 million a year.
A lot of those people would have a couple of days off, the boss would not mind too much, and there would be no requirement for a medical certificate or anything like that. But thanks to the Minister in charge of this bill, who happens to also be the Minister of
Labour, all those poor people who have caught a bit of a tummy bug will now be sent along to their doctor for a medical certificate. They will clog up that service for all the people with genuine problems that their doctor could fix. That will slow down the process, but hopefully the Food Bill will stop so many people from needing so many days off work, and stop them from having to go to the doctor for a medical certificate and clogging up our medical systems.
I have a concern. What will happen if someone gets one of these illnesses in his or her first 90 days in a new job? Does that mean that people might be out on their ear without any recourse whatsoever just because they got a little bit sick and had to have a few days off? Does it mean that they will be out the door with no recourse whatsoever?
Again, I think this is a very important bill. It is so appropriate that Kate Wilkinson is in charge of this bill, because if it achieves its outcome—
Hon Darren Hughes: In charge?
IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: It is a loose term to say that she is in charge. If the bill achieves its outcomes it may stop a lot of the problems that she has introduced to the New Zealand workforce through some of the other work she has been doing.
Sandra Goudie: Talk about the Food Bill. Hello!
IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I am talking about the Food Bill. I think it is an important bill that will hopefully stop people from getting ill, which will be an important part of keeping people at work and productive. We will not lose $86 million a year in productivity.
This is a good bill. It is an excellent bill because it was started under a Labour process. Labour is pleased to see it go to a select committee, where people will have the chance to have their say on it. We look forward to its progress through the House.
SUE KEDGLEY (Green)
: We have heard a lot of gobbledegook today about outcome-focused regulatory regimes, reducing business compliance, and so forth. I am quite sure that if anyone is listening to Parliament today, that person would be none the wiser about what this 342-page Food Bill is about than they were at the outset of the debate. I thought I would begin by reading the Ministry of Health warning or concerns about a Cabinet paper on this bill, a copy of which I obtained under the Official Information Act.
The Ministry of Health said: “We have a concern that the options that were reviewed and the whole paper on this bill focuses very much on improving business certainty and reducing compliance costs, with no discussion on any impact of achieving food safety.” It says the Cabinet paper makes no mention of the fundamental purpose of food safety, which is to protect human health, has no discussion of the extent of food-borne illness in New Zealand, and no discussion of whether the proposed changes are good, bad, or neutral for human health. It says this is a significant gap in the paper, which should say either that the changes will improve the protection of human health, in which case it should say why, whether it will make no changes—and again it should give a justification for this—or whether it will be worse for health, in which case it should include a description of what this might mean in a practical sense, in terms of the increased risk of food-borne disease and increased reputational risk for New Zealand producers.
I think it is very important that we heed the warning of the Ministry of Health about this bill, because, as far as I can deduce, the bill introduces a risk management model to food safety by shifting the responsibility for food safety from the Government to the people who produce food. Once the bill is passed, it will not be the Government’s responsibility but the food producers’ responsibility to ensure food is safe, and they will have to manage all those risks. That sounds fine in theory, but if we look at other countries that have done this—and I think particularly of America—we see that they
have essentially deregulated food safety from the Government to the food industry, and as a result of that there have been some quite spectacular public health disasters. For example, America got rid of its Government meat inspectors and said there would be no problem—that the meat companies would provide their own inspectors. Anyone who has watched the move
Food, Inc. will recall the massive E. coli food poisonings and deaths that resulted from inadequate food safety practices in the companies that, under this sort of regime, were supposed to be guaranteeing that food was safe.
Of particular concern in this context is the fact that in New Zealand we import such vast amounts of food. Despite being a food-producing nation, we import $3.5 billion worth of food each year, including 145,000 tonnes of fruit, 41,000 tonnes of vegetables, 34,000 tonnes of meat, and 9,300 tonnes of fish. We have no idea where all of this ends up, because if we went round the entire supermarket with a magnifying glass, we would never find out where the 34,000 tonnes of meat imported into New Zealand might have ended up in the supermarket. It is like a modern detective story. Well, we will never find out that particular mystery, because, unlike any other Western country, we do not have mandatory country-of-origin labelling. We cannot work out which is which. None of that imported food has to meet the standards that our domestic growers are expected to meet, which is galling for them, particularly when imported food can be passed off as New Zealand food.
The other huge concern is that only a tiny fraction of the vast amount of food coming into New Zealand is tested at the border. Europe tests 10 percent of the imported fruit and vegetables, and it rejects 10 percent of all consignments of imported fruit and vegetables. What do we test? No one will believe this, but it has recently been verified in the Primary Production Committee that we test 0.25 percent. That is how much food we test, and even that, basically, is tested just for high-risk items, such as microbial contamination. We are not worried about things like illegal pesticides here.
Another issue that is of extraordinary concern in the context of this bill is that we do not even have to import food from countries that have food safety regimes in place. We can import food from unregulated countries. I know that people will not believe that this is true, but if they do what I have done and trawl through the New Zealand Food Safety Authority website, they will come across this statement: “Not all countries have well developed domestic food safety regulatory systems and individual supplier safety practices can vary.” Although the New Zealand Food Safety Authority expects importers, where possible, to “source food from suppliers that are operating within a regulated environment … If the supplier is not operating within a … regulatory environment, an importer should place more emphasis on asking questions about how the food has been produced.” That is code—or gobbledegook—for saying it is perfectly legal in New Zealand to import food from countries that do not have food safety regulations in place—and I might say there is nothing in this bill that seeks to amend that in order to require that we import food only from countries with regulatory systems in place. I ask how transferring the food safety risk to importers that are importing from countries without a regulatory system in place will work.
The other issue is that the Minister for Food Safety said we have a rapid response to food risks. But let us look at our record. Just recently, at the end of last year, the state department of health in Texas found high levels of lead in dried plums imported from China. It immediately issued a recall of them all. I checked up and found that yes, we import a large amount of dried plums from China. I wondered what the Food Safety Authority might do. Well, what it did was to tell importers to check their dried plums, to see whether they might be affected. That was the end of the matter; there was no recall, and no action. Then, 6 months later—let us wait for it—the authority released the results of some testing of a small sample of imported plums, which I presume were
from China. Can members guess what the authority found? It found illegally high, non-compliant levels of lead in the plums, but still it did nothing. It was all perfectly safe, the authority said 6 months later. That, of course, was a typical response. It was almost a knee-jerk public relations response from the New Zealand food safety regime to downplay the results and assure consumers that there was absolutely no threat to their health.
One really worries about the context of our incredibly slack approach to food safety, particularly the safety of imported food. Until recently, anyone could import food into New Zealand. It was open slather. We did not even need to know who the importers were. Then the authority finally began to require importers to list their name and address with it. The good thing that this bill will do is to finally set up a register of importers, so that the Government will know who is importing food into New Zealand and will possibly be able to trace the food back to its source in the event of a food safety concern. But the truth is that despite all of the Minister’s talk about this outcome-focused regulatory regime—that is true; she said it is aimed at providing business certainty and reducing compliance costs—it is doubtful whether it will deliver the same level of food safety outcomes at a lower cost.
The real purpose of this bill seems to be to deliver the same level of food safety outcomes as previously, but at a lower cost. However, the truth is that when we consider the context of the slack approach that this Government and previous Governments have taken towards food safety, the vast amount of imported produce coming into New Zealand, the infinitesimal amount of testing at the border, the fact that we can import food from countries that do not even have regulatory regimes in place, and the fact that until now we have not even known who has been importing our food, I am afraid to say that we are not confident that this bill will really be the great leap forward in terms of food safety in New Zealand that many people have said it will be. The bill is 342 pages long. We will approve its referral to a select committee. I can assure the Government that I will be asking many questions and will seek to figure out whether any of the vast 342 pages of legislation will make a blind bit of difference in terms of improving food safety.
HONE HARAWIRA (Māori Party—Te Tai Tokerau)
: From what I can tell, this Food Bill talks about defining what is and what is not food—apparently cookware is not food. As if we needed to come to Parliament to find that out! It talks about establishing steps in the food safety chain, it talks about providing greater consumer protection, and it talks about promoting the positive endorsement of food safety—all of which should benefit New Zealanders, both Māori and non-Māori, on marae, in homes and community facilities, and in businesses right throughout the country. But I note from the comments from Sue Kedgley of the Green Party, in particular, that the bill still leaves a lot of questions about imports and standards unanswered. The Māori Party will support this bill at its first reading. We will watch for comments and submissions on the bill during the select committee process.
SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel)
: I am pleased to take a call on the Food Bill. For the edification of Miss Kedgley from the Greens, I say that this bill will make it easier for food businesses to understand how safe food needs to be produced—and that is exactly as it should be—with the least amount of bureaucracy and red tape to do that.
I note that a hāngi takeaway has just popped up in one of the bypasses of my electorate. I applaud that entrepreneurial spirit and hope that that takeaway’s owners did not have to jump through too many hoops to set themselves up as one of the many food businesses throughout New Zealand.
I remind people that this Food Act has not been updated for 30 years, and our current regulatory system is not as effective and as efficient as it could be. That is something that has been said time and time again throughout New Zealand by all sorts of people who want to do things within their communities. One of the keys things, as Ashraf Choudhary said, is that we do not want to penalise or obstruct in any way the community-based fund-raising activities like cake stalls or sausage sizzles, which are a big part of many communities’ fund-raising efforts. I know that many share the same sentiment, which is that none of us would like to see those efforts impeded in any way, as we all enjoy backing our schools and communities in those events.
One of the other areas mentioned is our export and our import sector. Shane Ardern made a great contribution on that, so I will not speak for any length about that aspect of the legislation.
The Food Act 1981 and its subordinate legislation, particularly the Food Hygiene Regulations 1974, have led to inconsistencies in application across New Zealand. This is a wonderful opportunity to deal with those inconsistencies together and have much more comprehensive legislation dealing with all of those matters that have been raised, in particular the issue of not penalising the efforts of our small communities in trying to ensure that we have safe food production in our large commercial enterprises.
Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour)
: The Food Bill is indeed substantive legislation—370 pages makes for quite a lot of reading. That is as it should be, because the production of food is the key driver for New Zealand’s economic wealth and will be for many years into the future. It is appropriate that we have a bill that has been in the development stage for many years. The bill was initiated by the previous Labour Government and it has finally been brought to the House.
Most people have said they welcome the bill’s introduction. Labour will support it because it does a number of good things in terms of alignment and improvement in the way that food is regulated in this country.
I will go back one step and explain why it is so important that we get this right. The Federated Farmers conference in Invercargill not so long ago heard from a number of speakers that the opportunities for this country in the future in terms of food production are huge. We have a wonderful future in selling into the growing markets of China and India. These countries are growing in affluence, and people want better-quality food, they want to know where the food comes from, and they need to know it is safe. So the opportunities are unlimited, but we have to do it right.
The issue is not just about exports. We need to have a best-standards regime in New Zealand—international standards, that is—because it is very hard to tell the world that we export the best-quality food but do not have the best-quality food within our own shores. That is the reality. Many people in the agriculture and food industry will tell members that when manufacturing for export the standards are higher than the standards necessary for domestic consumption—and that is not the way it should continue.
I guess that the misalignments and the number of pieces of legislation governing food production have been in part responsible for that. The previous Government saw the wisdom in bringing all food production under one piece of legislation. There was extensive consultation around the industry and, for the most part, the industry fully supports this door-stopper of a bill. I am sure that you, Mr Assistant Speaker Barker, like many members of Parliament, will have read it. I am sure the Minister has read it from front to back and twice over.
Brand New Zealand must be upheld; the integrity and safety of our food production must be absolute. No one can have any doubt that we should be, and are, the country of finest food production in the world. In this legislation we have aligned the standards and, as the previous speaker said, made the system easier.
I am not sure that making it easier is the objective of the bill. It should not be; it should be making the system better—that is, more consistent and more effective. It should guarantee that those from this country who go offshore or sell into the domestic market can say they know how the food was produced, where it came from, and that it is safe for consumption. As previous speakers have said, there are far too many cases of food-borne illness in this country. They cost us something like $80 million a year. That is a huge cost to pay just for not eating the right food or not handling it correctly. We must try our best to reduce that, aside from all the issues of our reputation.
Let me go through some of the processes in the bill and the basic concept of companies having a food plan. If they are substantive producers of food, they will have to develop their own food plan. There will be a template, I understand, which means that sectors or businesses do not have to keep reinventing the wheel, and I think that is a very smart move. Too often, through the Resource Management Act or other legislation, we place an obligation on organisations to come up with their own safety plan or whatever. There will be a template, and companies or organisations can have a look at that and see how it applies to them. There will be the ability for them to have their own food plan if they fall outside the basic parameters laid down. So no one will be exempt on the basis that they do not quite fit the square box, and we welcome that.
There will be some questions on the issue of self-policing. The basis of it is developing one’s own food plan, having standards, and maintaining those standards. The meat industry, for example, is under huge pressure at the moment. I am not quite sure whether we could rely on the meat industry to police its own standards of processing and export. We need in many cases to have an oversight body, which will be a local body in many cases. It will have to monitor the food plans.
Although we would be relying on self-policing, ultimately there must be a penalty regime and an oversight body that can step in, because when pressures come upon any business or organisation, people tend to cut corners. We cannot afford to have any food business—be it a restaurant, a takeaway bar, or a major exporter—cutting corners in that area. As I have said, our reputation is at risk here.
A custom-made food plan—a plan that applies to a certain organisation and falls outside the ability to use a template—will be overseen by the territorial local authority, or by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, ultimately. Of course, there are some questions—and this may not be the time to raise this issue—but with the Food Safety Authority now being merged back into the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, there are questions of expertise, or a possible dumbing down. The Minister is shaking her head, and I hope she is right.
I know that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is often consumed by its trade interests. It will on many occasions advise Ministers that we should not provide any assistance because it might impact on our trade reputation offshore. Well, we have to make sure that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry does not compromise its advice to Ministers or its operation of policing the food legislation. It should not compromise that in any way. The ministry has to take a close look at itself and assess whether it can objectively maintain the highest standards and not be subject to issues of trade, industry lobbying, or whatever.
The food handler guidance regime was of concern when Labour looked at this legislation. I am referring to the ability for people to have sausage sizzles and engage in fundraising activities. I know that there was a concern that we might have the food police—the food Nazis was the nasty term at that time—coming in to stop people selling sausages. That is not the case. Schools and organisations like St John Ambulance, fire brigades, or whatever, who have sausage sizzles on a regular basis or
sell other forms of food need to know they can continue to do that. We certainly intend that to occur.
I am sure that the Primary Production Committee, when following the process on this bill, will try to uphold that, but I have to ask the Minister, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and local authorities to ensure that we do not have overzealous people policing sausage sizzles. I know that people wear gloves at most of them. The old days of having a smoking, wheezing enthusiastic school secretary handing us a sausage—
Hon Maurice Williamson: They taste better with a bit of cigarette ash.
Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: Well, yes, they did taste different, and I guess they helped build up our immunity to many things, but I think those days have long gone. We have to ensure that in upholding higher standards we do not open the door for an overzealous local council rep to come along and shut those events down. I think we reached a good compromise in that area, and I hope we can maintain that during the select committee’s deliberations and, finally, back in this House.
Labour supports the bill. We have been very proud to be part of its development. We support the Government in bringing it to the House and ensuring that we have in place the best system of food management in the world so that we can rightfully uphold Brand New Zealand and say that we will now, and in the future, produce the highest quality food for top-end consumers, be they in China, India, the European Union, or the US. I commend the bill to the House, and I recommend and support its passage through the House.
COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura)
: It is a pleasure to address the Food Bill at its first reading. Having listened to all the speakers who have spoken before me, I say that I think those who are listening would come to understand that having somebody looking over the shoulder of everybody who is producing food for sale would be quite impossible, and therefore we need to have a good, solid, reliable food plan that the business itself fully understands. On that basis this is why the bill is so good. It makes it easier for business to fully understand their responsibilities, their requirements, and their undertakings in the preparation of food for sale and food provided for a whole range of things. I just want to clear up that point, because when we use the term “easier for business” it can be construed at times that we are actually taking shortcuts, but, really, in this context in the Food Bill, “easier for business” means that it is clear and understandable, and well and truly articulated. Business can effectively take ownership of it, they can write up their own food plans inside the framework that has been designed, and then they can be audited by the local territorial authority against the food plan that they have designed. This all comes under the overall auspices of central government, so that has to be very good.
I will take a couple of moments to draw people’s attention to the parts of the bill that I think add value. Clause 94 clearly articulates the exemption for certain persons involved in community-based fund-raising activities. The only point I would raise is that the proposed transition from the existing food regulations to the Food Bill, when it is enacted into law, is said to take 5 years, but I certainly hope that it does not take 5 years before we start sorting ourselves out around sausage sizzles, cake stalls, and preserves.
On the other side of it, I will turn to schedule 1, which covers food sectors subject to food control plans. I think this part clearly improves the bill considerably because, again, it enshrines in legislation those parts and the very purpose and intention of that framework. It does not give anybody the excuse or the opportunity to say that it was not clearly articulated. Obviously, there have been considerable inconsistencies throughout the country in the way local authorities have insisted on standards. I believe that this bill certainly makes an improvement. The Government feels that this bill is indeed an
improvement over the previous Government’s bill as it includes a massive schedule covering what the food control plans will look like.
It is also worth noting that a considerable amount of this bill is set down for the purpose of articulating infringement offences. It goes right through the whole process, which is considerable. Again, the whole tenor of this bill puts the responsibility back on those people who are governed by it—those people who are in the food business. I think that that is very appropriate, when we consider that just over a year from now we will be hosting one of the largest sporting events in the world, and possibly the largest sporting event that New Zealand will host.
Hon Darren Hughes: That sheep-shearing competition?
COLIN KING: I would like to think it is, but it is not. That competition is headed off by a nose by the Rugby World Cup. On that basis one’s mind is cast back to 1995 when we were over in South Africa. We had an incident that could have cost this country the second World Cup win.
Hon Darren Hughes: It did.
COLIN KING: I take the member’s comment that it did; I would not go as far as to say that. When we have our 85,000 to 90,000—maybe even 100,000—visitors here in 2011, I am sure they will return home after having had a very, very enjoyable experience, after the Primary Production Committee has applied itself to getting out any gremlins from this legislation so that it works effectively and it serves possibly our largest industry now, if not in the future, which is tourism. If we have people coming here and they know that our lamb in the EU or the US is one of the highest protein value products they can buy, they will also expect the exact same from our tourism industry. But if we do not have the food standards, the food preparation, and the certainty to present to our tourists, then we are failing them miserably. It is with great enthusiasm and pleasure that I support this bill, and I commend it to the House.
DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert)
: It is my pleasure to take a call on the Food Bill. As has been said by others, this bill has support throughout the House, simply because it is good, common sense legislation. There is a myriad of regulations and by-laws, both at the local level and at the national level, that regulate the sale and distribution of food. The key thing, as other speakers have pointed out, is that when we can attribute an estimated cost of about $80 million to lost work opportunities as a result of bad food-handling, this legislation is all the more important.
One of my colleagues pointed out that if people get a sickness such as diarrhoea as a result of poor food-handling and they have to stay home from work, there will now probably be an obligation to go to a doctor to get a medical certificate. Let us touch on that matter for a moment. Let us face it: it is a waste of time for people who are sick for a day to have to get an appointment to see a doctor, perhaps the next day, and to front up with a medical certificate to their employer. Instead of 1 day off work, they might need 2 or 3 while they go and get their medical certificate, which is apparently much needed! So I congratulate the Government for coming up with a suggestion that will result in more people being off work, rather than fewer.
I come back to the key issue, which is the need for the Food Bill. A myriad of by-laws and regulations exist at the moment, which makes it extremely complicated and confusing for food sellers and operators. As has been pointed out, this bill is not meant to apply to charity barbecues or sausage sizzles, although I guess over time, particularly as a result of this bill and the additional education related to its implementation, we will hopefully see some improvement in that area.
This bill was begun, as has been pointed out, by the previous Labour Government as a result of need and the way the existing legislation had grown holus-bolus. We will support the bill to go to select committee. There is an enormous amount of work to be
done on this tome, this door stop. We will be going through those issues in the select committee.
I will highlight right now a couple of areas of possible concern. One is the amalgamation of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. This is important because I think that this Government is putting together agencies under the guise of efficiency and cost savings. I believe this will undermine their operations, particularly those of the Food Safety Authority when it is under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. With this amalgamation we are seeing no real cost savings whatsoever. There are zero cost savings, yet a smaller organisation is amalgamating with a much larger organisation. Its key purpose and its key reason for being are possibly being threatened and undermined. That is an extremely important aspect of this move.
This move is also found in the science and innovation area; I applaud the Government for its change of name. Its amalgamation of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology in a new, very good-sounding ministry—the Ministry of Science and Innovation—again does not really highlight enough what may happen as a result of this amalgamation. Let us see what might happen. We are looking at about $6.9 million to put these two agencies together. It will take at least 5 or 6 years, looking at Treasury’s estimates, before that becomes cost neutral in terms of the savings. We ask ourselves why we are doing this, and the only answer I can come up with is that it makes the Government look like it is doing something for the sake of doing something. It is a great name, but $6.9 million is a very big price tag to change the name of an organisation.
More important, it mixes the funding with the policy. Now policy and funding will be in the same agency. The great point about the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology—and Labour itself looked at this—was that it was able to give independent policy advice to the Minister, separate from its ability to fund different pieces of research. This change makes the Minister susceptible to the fact that funding will be mixed up with that policy advice. Funding could actually be directed by the Minister. That is not the intent of the legislation, at all.
Turning to another point, the search for a new head of the Ministry of Science and Innovation was a great opportunity to get some of the best thinkers and innovators internationally to head this new organisation. This organisation can lead our innovation, and can lead our economic drivers into the future. We have seen a 2½-week recruitment process to try to find a head for this new organisation—2½ weeks. That does not enable a comprehensive international search to occur. We want this new agency to drive our economic growth, to get behind some of the science and innovation, and to get behind some of the commercialisation of the fantastic ideas that are out there in New Zealand. What we are seeing is a very half-hearted, “wink wink, nudge nudge” recruitment policy to get the person who is going to be responsible for driving it. We could get somebody from Finland, Denmark, Singapore, or Israel—the countries in the world that are really out there—at the head of our innovation. Instead we will be getting, after 2½ weeks’ search, a person who will probably come from within the bureaucracy but who, I hope, has great credentials. More likely it will be someone with the same thinking, and very little new thinking, and will therefore provide very little in the way of new opportunities for New Zealand to get ahead.
I believe that is a very sad indictment on the way that this Government is going about its reorganisation. It is a very sad indictment on the way that we are trying to get ahead in our economic growth. We had an opportunity to recruit a really world-class leader to head up our export, scientific, and innovation-led industries. Instead we will get
somebody from within the bureaucracy who will get a wink, a nudge, and a tap on the shoulder. That is a wasted opportunity.
If we did a proper recruitment process, if a local person was recruited on the basis of a wide international search, and if a New Zealander who was already working within our institutions was selected from an international search, I would say that would be a great pat on the back for that person. But we are not getting that. Instead, after a 2½-week desultory, narrow recruitment process we will be getting somebody who will not necessarily be the best. We will not know whether that person is the best. It is a bit of a shame.
CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki)
: In speaking on the first reading of this 340-odd-page Food Bill, I congratulate the Minister for Food Safety, the Hon Kate Wilkinson, on bringing this bill to the House and for the work, clarity, and productivity gains she is setting in place for New Zealand and for our families to enable further job growth in many of our lower-paid and lower-skilled industries. I genuinely congratulate her for some of the other work she is doing at the moment, and on the way she is managing to steer New Zealand in the right direction. I also congratulate the new Opposition spokesperson on agriculture, Damien O’Connor. It is an interesting admission of failure on the part of the Opposition. The previous spokesperson failed to land a blow on the Hon David Carter, and, with previous history, I think Mr O’Connor will also struggle. I recall that a few years ago he—I think it was him—struggled through his ministerial role.
Today is Thursday, and a previous speaker mentioned the naked pie man in Palmerston North. Well, that is very interesting and for the sake of
Hansard I had better not go there, but it did bring up all interesting sorts of play on words and things. I note that Hawke’s Bay produces the best pies in New Zealand, year after year. It is very interesting because after this bill the New Zealand Productivity Commission Bill will come up for debate. In fact, this bill fits in very nicely with productivity gains for New Zealand. It simply provides clarity and certainty to those in this sector. As we all know, as other speakers have acknowledged, and as I acknowledge, the bill originated under the previous Labour Government. The potential growth and New Zealand’s upside from anything related to food is very, very large indeed—particularly from my region of Hawke’s Bay, wine country—especially in emerging Asian markets.
I note very quickly a couple of points. The Food Bill will go to the Primary Production Committee, which I am on. The schedules in the back of the bill, particularly schedule 3 on page 299, which is about horticultural producers who do direct sales of their own produce to consumers, define that sector of direct sales. There has been a bit of mischief around that sector over time, but it is a tradition in places like Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, and down south Nelson way to have honesty boxes out the front of orchards and places. The bill puts some perimeters around it that are not too stringent.
I congratulate the Minister and her officials for the way they have managed to pull this together. I am sure the select committee will find some amendments it may want to put in the bill on its way through that process. A point of interest, particularly to me, is in schedule 7 on page 328 where there are various changes to other Acts, particularly the Geographical Indication (Wines and Spirits) Registration Act. Being from the Hawke’s Bay, we have a very large interest in all things wine and food as we are the food basket of New Zealand. I look forward to this bill passing through the House and contributing to it as it goes through the Primary Production Committee, and I look forward to it coming back before the House. Thank you.
referred to the Primary Production Committee.