As someone who has contracted campylobacter in Morocco and Hepatitis A in Somalia, I can say with some authority that it is nice to live in a country known for its high food safety standards.
Our good record has been established over generations but it has recently been taken for granted.
We learnt last fortnight that 15 Auckland butchers have been fined for using chemicals in their meat that can make us sick, and fool us into thinking the meat is fresh when its past its expiry date.
A couple of things in particular worried me about the case.
First, the government did not want to reveal which butchers had committed the offence. Why would the government want to protect these rule-breakers rather than help us keep our families safe?
Gary Orr, compliance manager for the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said, “Naming the businesses could mean consumers choosing not to go there.”
Well, that is exactly the point. We should not buy from people who have broken the rules of the land and put our health, including that of our children at risk for their selfish reasons.
Name and shame
Businesses that put us at risk in this way should expect to be named, not protected.
The second thing that worries me about this case is the revelation that MPI no longer makes a priority of routinely monitoring and testing fresh red meat sold in New Zealand.
That is an omission that you would not expect to find in a country like New Zealand, which prides itself on the quality of our food.
Ask anyone who has lived in a country where food safety is not monitored; it should be core government business and MPI should know this after the botulism scare and the DCD milk controversy.
The 15 Auckland butchers who added toxic chemicals to their meat were only caught because a couple became sick after eating mince.
This is a bad look for MPI, and the government that does not appear concerned. As a result, New Zealand’s food-safety operations are looking increasingly threadbare.
David Shearer is Member of Parliament elected from Mt Albert and Labour Party’s Spokesman for Foreign Affairs and Consumer Affairs.