We have been debating in Parliament the ‘Food Bill,’ which deals with risk-based measures and the safety and suitability of food prepared, distributed and sold in various places.
The Bill aims to look at the ways and means of adjusting the law in relation to how people trade in food. In essence, the objective is to ensure the safety and suitability of food sold, provide measures to manage the risk posed by food-related activities and achieve positive public health outcomes.
There is also a need to provide certainty to businesses dealing in food items and make them aware of the legal requirements.
The Bill covers all businesses, activities and undertakings involved in food and expressedly include imported food. In terms of regulatory requirements, the Bill does not distinguish between food intended for domestic consumption or export.
The issue that would be of specific interest to our ethnic communities is the ‘suitability of food,’ which includes ensuring that the product does not contain anything offensive, unexpected or unusual, such as presence of meat in vegetarian meals.
Under the present system, food businesses are not obliged to provide proof to the New Zealand Food Safety Authority that such suitability requirements were addressed. However, when the proposed legislation becomes effective, it will provide guidelines that would complement religious or ethical aversion to particular food or ingredient.
The Food Bill will also cover ‘Charitable’ food outlets, such as food distributed in religious places, farmer’s market and fundraisers.
Many ethnic communities share food in their Temples, Mosques and Churches.
The Food Bill debate has led to looking at how such activities can avoid requirements of lengthy and costly Food Control Plans, without compromising safe food handling requirements.
Safety procedures, precautions and regulations will help in avoiding ‘accidents’ and nasty incidents. For instance, in 2009, a 68-year-old woman engaged in homemade jams and pickles for the local hospice had her operation shut down because her kitchen was not registered with local authorities.
New Zealand has 18,000 cases of intestinal illness a year, with 1000 of those requiring hospitalisation. The total cost of all this illness, mostly in terms of absence from the workforce, is estimated to be $86 million a year.
This is totally unacceptable for a developed nation.
We have to do better.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary is Member of Parliament on Labour List and the Party’s Associate Spokesman for Ethnic Affairs. Readers may seek clarification on the issues discussed above by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson introduced the ‘Food Bill’ to Parliament in June 2010 to revisit the provisions of the Food Act 1981. Developed over the past three years, the new Bill is aligned with the New Zealand Standard platform, which provides the basis for food exports. It provides several broad measures governing all aspects of food prepared, served and sold in public places throughout New Zealand.