New Zealand fears over food regulation

Primary industry bosses fear New Zealand’s “world-class” food safety regulatory system is in danger of being swapped for a costly and inflexible set of rules, which do nothing to raise performance and will only dent competitiveness.

belushiAn inquiry into food safety regulation governing the dairy industry last December found it was not a factor in last year’s botulism false alarm.

In fact, it found the system to be “as good as any in the world”.

Still, the Government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate Contamination Incident (WPC80) came back with a raft of action points to bolster the system and safeguard against future food safety threats.

Industry bosses fear the fox being let loose in the chicken coop as officials from the Ministry of Primary Industries are left to work through the detailed implementation of 29 recommendations.

These include recasting procedures for food recalls and moving legal responsibility for crisis response plans to officials. Two new quangos will be set up to highlight and provide advice to officials on how to deal with future food safety risks.

Discussions involving 150 primary sector executives conducted by consultancy firm KPMG has found little confidence in officialdom to get the balance right in any shakeup.

Transcripts released to the Herald quote one participant, from the horticultural industry, who believed the botulism false positive was a “political scare” rather than one based on any real risk to consumers in foreign markets.

In the meat industry, there is unease that well-signalled moves to cut out government middlemen from basic inspection tasks at processing plants could be stymied. Last year the industry paid AgriQuality $87 million for post mortem inspections of carcases for meat quality which the industry believes could be carried out by its own employees.

Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie says whether a government or company inspector carries out the task is irrelevant to food safety but he worries the frenzied atmosphere surrounding food safety in the dairy industry could lead officials to block the move.