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August 13, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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The Food Bill

What does it mean for our communities?

The Food Bill is a proposed law, to replace the Food Act 1981. The bill has bee proposed by the Ministry of Primary Industries who promote the bill as providing an “efficient, effective and risk-based food regulatory regime that manages food safety.”

So what does that mean? Increasingly there has been a lot of scepticism about what the Bill actually means for New Zealanders, from commercial food vendors, to home gardeners. Recently when visiting my Nan and Koro, I picked up my usual bag of fresh vegetables that Nan always gives us. Looking in the bag I admired the variety of kai she had collected. Nan not only provides us with kai from her own garden, but her neighbours share kai by hanging bags of it on the fences that connect their properties. She takes some for her and Koro, her children and her mokopuna, and then hangs her own excess produce up as koha for everyone else.

This time though she warned me: “You know soon we’ll be breaking the law doing that, with this new food law. I was telling them next door, we won’t be able to leave it hanging there like that, we’ll have to just throw them over to each other so no-one sees.”

Amused at the thought of my 80-year-old grandmother illegally catapulting her beans across the suburban skies of Palmerston North to subvert government oppression, I wondered: is Nan right? Will this new law force the beloved act of sharing kai underground, or over fences? Will it criminalise our kuia and koro, our community gardeners, or even our tamariki who grow and proudly bring kai home from kura and kōhanga? Exactly what is considered right and wrong under the proposed law, and how worried should our communities be? Considering the focus of the law is kai, a tino taonga tuku iho, what are the implications for us as kaitiaki? Are there implications in terms of our Te Tiriti rights and responsibilities?

Well, as with most of New Zealand bureaucracy, the answer doesn’t seem very straightforward. One of the biggest criticisms of the Bill has been its large scope and complexity. The Bill doesn’t just propose to replace the Food Act, but over time to also replace two other food regulation acts, and to make amendments to other food product acts. This Bill is in line with the current Government’s desire to silo primary industry compliance policy and legislation under the management of its new monster Ministry of Primary Industry. So understanding the Bill  means wading through a lot of information.

he first important point is that the Bill will not affect people who simply grow or process food and save seeds for themselves and their family. The Bill is directed at anyone involved in preparing, manufacturing, packing, transporting, storing, displaying or serving food that is for sale or barter. Barter is not the same as sharing food as koha with each other, it is a commercial transaction that is concerned with maintaining economic value, as opposed to sharing food as a social transaction that is concerned with maintaining relationships. The Bill therefore does not apply to food that is socially shared, so my Nan and her neighbours are safe.

However if you are someone involved in the sale of food, your obligations and responsibilities vary according to the scale of food sales that they are involved in. If the scale is small enough—for example growers who just sell at the farm gate or childcare providers who just handle food that parents pay for— you will have no new obligations. However anything larger than this, for example, people who sell pre-packaged food, childcare providers who prepare food, and dairies that sell pick ‘n’ mix lollies will all have new obligations that involve maintaining written ‘Food Control Plans’, and by the way, the obligations for each of those three examples will all be different.

hat means if you produce a hangi to sell for a fundraiser, the place where you produce the hangi, for example a marae, will have to have a Food Control Plan that covers the usual ringawera. Which also means, if you are paying a koha to use your marae or a local marae, and you aren’t a regular ringawera covered under the Plan, you would have to do your own Plan, which will cost a fee to register as well. Say what?!

The way I see it, the biggest issue with this Bill are not Te Tiriti rights based, but human and community rights based. As highlighted by Nandor Tanczos in his comprehensive opinion piece on the Bill: “Making dairies write a Food Control Plan with all the ongoing verification and paperwork that goes with it because they make filled rolls is kind of bizarre.” This Bill sends Aotearoa down the path of a highly regulated and bureaucratic food system, one which small business operators and community organisations will find increasingly expensive and complicated to participate in.

Our communities should have their rangatiratanga as traders of food protected and enhanced through food policy—whether they are Maori students putting on a hangi fundraiser or Hare Krishnas selling cheap vegan food. Instead, the Food Bill creates many hoops for small scale producers and retailers to jump through, while not really impacting on current obligations for large scale companies in the food industry. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Given the current rhetoric of the Government that we need to downscale bureaucracy, and support small businesses, shouldn’t we have a Food Bill that, well, does that for the business of food?

his Bill raises larger questions about whose ideals for food systems should Aotearoa be following. Those of our kuia and koro who put their kai up on fences to share, or those of large multi-nationals who put fences up around their kai to sell? What models of food production do we want to pursue? Who do we want to be our food producers and retailers? What is our vision for kai in Aotearoa? And what do we need in our law to bring that vision to life?

My Nan’s lack of understanding on the implications of the Bill is not at all uncommon—in all my work with Maori gardeners, every single one shares her concerns. This is indicative of the total lack of Government engagement with the public on the Bill. Soon the Bill will be at its second reading and it’s time for us as kaitiaki to engage with it and to start advocating for that vision.

For more information on the Food Bill: food-regulations/food-bill 

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