Friday, January 6, 2012

Food Bill backlash stuns NZ government...

English: Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand M...
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Open: Sue Kedgley, below, says there's room for amendments in the Food Bill.

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Politicians and government officials appear to have been blindsided by a backlash to new food safety laws, with nearly 4000 people signing a petition demanding change.
The petition argues that the sharing of food is a basic human right.
"The Food Bill ... will seriously impede initiatives like community gardens, food co-ops, heritage seed banks, farmers markets, bake sales, and roadside fruit and vegetable stalls," say the organisers of the petition,
Opponents of the law claim free trade agreement negotiations and the long arm of multinational genetically modified seed giant Monsanto are among the drivers of the new law. They also cite changes to US food laws that have seen armed raids conducted against organic food producers and distributors.
However, Green MP Sue Kedgley and Minister for Food Safety Kate Wilkinson have said the bill has inadvertently captured activities it should not have and they are open to make amendments.
Kedgley told the Sunday Star-Times she would support an amendment to the law similar to one passed in the US to exempt small food-producing businesses.
Wilkinson has also signalled that she is seeking advice on amendments to ensure seed banks and an employment system used by organic food producers, Willing Workers on Organic Farms (Wwoofers), are not disrupted.
"It is certainly not my intention to impose food safety regulatory requirements on those hosting Wwoofers or those who provide food to boarders or guests in exchange for money, work or assistance," she wrote to Kedgley last month.
Kedgley has criticised the people who are now opposing the bill for not making their voices heard before.
"These concerns, unfortunately, were never raised during the submission stage of the bill, when they can be examined in depth. Nor were any submissions sent in from any food groups raising these concerns," she wrote on the Green Party's Frogblog last month. responded describing her response as a "sanctimonious treatment of NZers who are too tired to be
eternally vigilant".
On Friday, Kedgley told the Sunday Star-Times about a recent meeting with officials and signalled she would push for more changes.
Kedgley said there is no malevolent intent behind the bill and she would be the first to be alarmed if the bill was being driven by international free trade agreements.
While there are provisions for whole categories of activity to be exempted by officials, she would now like these to be explicitly exempted in the law.
Kedgley said she proposed that bartering be removed from the bill, but pointed out that bartering is already covered under existing legislation. These provisions in the new Food Bill have essentially been carried forward from existing law.
Wilkinson in her August letter to Kedgley said if bartering was excluded it could "perversely incentivise large scale or commercial food producers to avoid regulatory requirements through setting up some sort of bartering system".
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Kedgley said if small producers are covered by the new law they need only to adhere to food handler guidelines. Problems do arise, however, when they employ someone or sell produce to retailers for resale.
One model could be a pragmatic compromise similar to one previously reached for small egg producers, she said. A threshhold of 100 hens was set before producers were required to implement a risk management programme.
Kedgley said she would be pushing for explicit exemptions and a threshold either based on GST registration or a turnover figure.
Source- © Fairfax NZ News
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