Proposed NZ Food Bill 'ridiculous', says industry leader

August 10 , 2011

While a dismal foreign exchange rate rapidly decreases the value of New Zealand’s exports, fruit growers face the threat of a new Food Bill placing another layer of costs onto their operations.

Following the European E. coli saga and the latest salmonella outbreak with Mexican papayas in the U.S., the New Zealand government is eager to protect the reputation of food exports.

The proposed legislation aims to put food safety back in the hands of the state by requiring both fruit and vegetable growers become licensed and registered by their local government body.

New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) spokesperson Christian Bonnevie, told www.freshfruitportal.com while the bill was awaiting a second reading it was unlikely this would happen before the general election in November.

"Safe food handling is obviously important to the reputation of New Zealand’s food exports, given the negative impact a food borne illness outbreak can have on how the safety of a particular country’s food exports and food safety systems can be consequently perceived," he says.

Duplication fears

Horticulture New Zealand CEO Peter Silcox agrees food safety needs to be protected as it is an important point of difference for New Zealand fruit growers.

"One of the things that New Zealand produce carries with it is the food safety aspect and it is a selling point in the market for us, particularly when we are facing competition from countries such as China," he says.

But this does not mean Silcox agrees with the proposed changes. He says if the ‘ridiculous’ bill is passed it would cost each New Zealand grower NZ$300-500 (US$248.58-414.30), in addition to what they already pay to third party assurance providers, wasting millions of dollars.

More than 7000 produce growers already comply with third party assurance programs.

"The risks that the bill is trying to manage are largely managed by commercial growers anyway. We’re raised concerns about the duplication that the bill provides," he says.

Just Feijoas Limited manager Hamish Blackberry, says it is frustrating the government doesn’t recognize the NZGAP and GLOBALG.A.P programs, the latter of which he already pays NZ$1,500 (US$1242.90) annually to be part of.

Mr Silcox says he is not impressed by the role the local councils are poised to play, while it is unlikely an international buyer would want to check what regulations are used in local councils.

"There already exists NZGAP and GLOBALG.A.P and there’s a few others as well that are already audited by third party independent auditors anyway, and quite frankly I don't think staff at district councils have any ideas about the horticulture business and the global requirements in terms of food safety.

"We’re meeting the requirements of our export markets and the big buyers don't want to go down and look at what (for example) the Gisborne District Council are doing."

Uncertain times for growers

The process has frustrated growers who were promised that NZGAP would be assured.

Ian Turk, who manages New Zealand’s persimmon, feijoa and boysenberry councils, says the process has created uncertainty for growers.

"What really frustrated me is in the lead up to the bill, ministers and officials said they would recognize the Food Bill for the national program, and so I told my growers to get certified under NZGAP," he says.

Photos: New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA)

www.freshfruitportal.com

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