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The Food Bill - Submissions closing soon

ARTICLE by Setareh Masoud-Ansari

August 2013

 

 

If you are in the food industry, you are likely to be impacted on by the proposed Food Bill. The Food Bill replaces the Food Act 1981 and imposes new controls which are likely to replace the need for Food Hygiene bylaws promulgated and enforced by Councils. The submissions for the Food Bill close on 16 August 2013.

Summary of the proposed Food Bill

Changes to the Food Bill improve on the current legislation in three ways:

  • Improving knowledge and food handling practices;
  • improving monitoring and data collection; and
  • improving enforcement.

The Food Bill replaces the Food Act 1981 and associated regulations. The Food Bill makes good food handling practices mandatory for most high-and-medium risk foods through food control plans and national programmes. These plans and programmes identify risks in the food handling chain and set out measures to address those risks. Verifiers will check the performance of food operators against food control plans and national programmes – this improves on the current situation where food inspectors assess premises (rather than practices) against the Food Hygiene Regulations. Low-risk operators and those who are exempted from operating under risk-based tools will have access to guidance material that will help them control risks. They may also choose to voluntarily operate under national programmes, food control plans or other food safety programmes, possibly in response to market expectations and consumer demand.

The Food Bill will improve the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (“MPI”) monitoring of high-and-medium-risk food operations because it introduces a central register of businesses operating under food control plans and national programmes. 

The Bill will also enable proactive risk-based checking of food safety practices as opposed to the regime under the Food Hygiene Regulations, which involves inspection of premises. Currently, the environmental health officers employed by territorial authorities do not have the mandate to check food safety practices as these are not covered by the Food Hygiene Regulations.

The Bill will considerably strengthen the Government’s enforcement powers by:

  • introducing infringement offences, giving officers a new enforcement option that sits between warnings and costly court action;
  • creating a power to inspect and search food businesses operating from private dwellings;
  • mandating the food safety practices set out in food control plans and national programmes, so that food operators can be held to account where they are failing to manage risk adequately;
  • significantly increasing penalties for individuals and corporates;
  • making numerous changes to offences, penalties, remedies and procedures that will clarify and tighten the regulatory regime; and
  • clarifying that food manufactured for export is covered by the legislation – this is unclear under the current regime.

In addition to regulatory changes, Ministry of Primary Industries is also investing in improved monitoring and data collection.

The Food Bill will give consumers confidence that the rules governing the safety of the food they buy are consistent and focused on the right areas across the country. Operators in the food industry are likely to be able to rely on the system provided under the bill instead of the bylaw grading process managed by local councils. More than half of New Zealand’s councils have developed their own bylaws to address gaps in the current Food Act 1981. This means food safety rules aren’t applied or enforced consistently across the country. By introducing a set of rules that all food producers would have to follow – regardless of where in the country they are – the new Bill would largely remove the need for local food-related bylaws. Consumers will know that the same high standard of food safety will be consistently applied throughout the country.

The Bill’s risk-based approach focuses greatest scrutiny where it will do the most good. It places the strictest food safety requirements on businesses that produce the highest risk foods, and less on businesses that produce low risk foods. Consumers will also benefit from a better system to ensure businesses comply with food safety requirements. Minor and technical offences will be dealt with faster and more effectively and penalties for the worst offences will be strengthened.

Improvements for businesses

The Bill is intended to make it easier and less costly to run a food business. It tries to take a flexible, risk-based approach to the production of safe food. It recognises that each business is different and gives food businesses the tools they need to manage food safety in the most effective way for them. The central feature of the Bill is a sliding scale where businesses that are higher risk from a food safety perspective will operate under more food safety requirements and checks than lower risk businesses.

Individual operators will determine their own compliance costs as the frequency of independent checks will be based on their performance.  In other words, those businesses that achieve high standards of food safety will be rewarded with less frequent checks.  The reverse also applies – businesses not managing food safety well will receive extra attention and pay for extra checks.

Submissions

Submissions on the Food Bill are now closed.