I am very concerned about the Food Bill, despite the Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson's assurances (Perspective, Jan 16) that there is nothing to be concerned about. No matter how honourable her intentions, it is not what the minister says but what is written in the bill that will be enforced.
I understand that Part 4, Clause 275 of the proposed bill gives power to enter a premises without a search warrant, and any reasonable force for the purposes of entry and search may be used. On page 210, there is apparently an allowance for being able to break open anything at the premises.
One would understand this if the officers were looking for harmful chemical substances but, for food, it seems to be quite the overkill. It seems like legislation for a police state rather than a democracy.
Another main concern is that the bill is vague. There appear to be too many complicated compliance requirements that could close down small businesses with excessive red tape, including niche restaurants, and organic and artisan food providers which are such a special part of our culture.
The red tape will also discourage entrepreneurs and more holistic enterprises in the food industry. The definition of food in this bill is apparently anything a person ingests. This is ominous for those who take responsibility for their own health and purchase vitamins and organic and free-range food from sources other than the major conglomerates. I don't want the Government to decide what food or vitamins are "safe" for me.
That is one of my rights. The majority of us don't want a nanny state monitoring our personal choices on what food and vitamins we ingest. Government has no business in our private lives.
The proposed Food Bill gives more governmental control, under the banner of "Food Safety". The title of the bill seems to be a PR line, which, in my view, doesn't give the real reason for the bill, because the legislation apparently wasn't written by New Zealanders but comes from overseas as part of a compliance to be able to "freely trade" internationally. There is nothing free about it. Many who are voting on it have probably not even read it. Perhaps they hear "Food Safety" and think, "That sounds OK."
We need our own laws in New Zealand, not 600-page laws that have been drafted in other countries where it is well-known lobbyists such as pharmaceutical corporations and seed monopolies contribute so much to overseas politics that they practically write the law (for greater control) themselves.
Added compliance costs for small businesses will not be sustainable for some. They are already overburdened with bureaucracy. We are all keen on ensuring food establishments are sensibly hygienic but burdening them with excessive compliance costs is not the way to do it.
The minister states the Government won't be concerned about sausage sizzles or home- baking sales, yet the same items will come under scrutiny in a restaurant that almost always has strict hygiene rules in place. The same goes for bartering. Larger- scale bartering will attract more regulations than smaller-scale bartering. If food safety is of concern, then why the double standards? Food is either safe, or it isn't. How can the minister tell that the humble fund-raising snarler sold at the front of a hardware store is any safer than one sold in a restaurant? Or is this just a way to collect more tax from restaurants because they are there every day?
The minister states the government does not intend to over-regulate the food industry, but also states the industry will be required to "meet more robust requirements and operate under a regulated food-control plan". The devil is in the detail (of which there is plenty) and her carefully crafted words seem to simply spell out More Bureaucracy. Nor, in its current form, does it seem that the bill will prevent food-related illnesses. To address those concerns, it is more appropriate for our laws, written in simple language, to focus on common- sense hygiene and cleanliness requirements (which the majority of restaurants are scrupulous about anyway) and eradicate synthetic additives in food, rather than overburdening small business with mind-numbing daily audits and box-ticking.
Proper food-safety law should also focus on prohibiting the import of pollens that are suspected of destroying our kiwifruit industry, prohibiting raw pork imports from offshore countries that have foot-and- mouth disease and could destroy our farming industries and, above all, prohibiting genetically engineered seed from our shores. Such legislation would alleviate the concerns of most New Zealanders, protect our food industry and give a lasting worthwhile legacy to future Kiwis.
Keep laws in New Zealand simple and written for our culture, our land, and our people. Our government should be true to our country and New Zealanders, rather than foreign interests.
Freedom for an individual and a country comes at a cost personally, nationally and internationally. Sometimes that cost is letting go of a "free trade" deal, which was never genuinely free in the first place. Let us ensure that, as a nation, we don't compromise our integrity, freedom, and independence.
* Mary Hobbs was the publisher of New Zealand Outside magazine for 10 years and is based at Aoraki/Mt Cook and also Sumner. Her fifth book, published in 2010, Matagouri and Other Pricks, The Journey to Aoraki/Mount Cook, was about battling intrusive bureaucracy in small business, followed in 2011 by a book for Christchurch, Christchurch Dreaming. She is married to restaurateur and mountain and ski guide Charlie Hobbs.
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