Food swaps with friends fine, says Govt

By Derek Cheng

Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson. Photo / Supplied
Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson. Photo / Supplied

The Government is giving assurances that a bill reforming food safety standards will not affect the Kiwi tradition of growing your own food and swapping it with friends and neighbours.

But Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson declined to say whether the Food Bill, which is likely to be passed into law this year, needed amendments to ensure some groups of low-risk food traders - including home-grown community vegetable sharing - would not have to clear compliance hurdles.

The bill aims to update 30-year-old legislation on food safety to better protect consumers.

A report from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research found that 88 per cent of food-borne diseases came from restaurants, cafes and takeaways in 2010; 31 per cent came from poultry or shellfish.

The bill creates four regulatory levels of safety based on relative risk, and puts responsibility for safety squarely on the person in charge of a food operation.

But doubt remains over whether some groups would need to be exempted from registering and have a national safety plan.

Such groups include community food swapping, and trading involving foods not straight out of the garden, such as jams, preserves or baking.

The Green Party is also pushing for small operators to be exempt from needing to have a national safety plan, because of concerns the compliance costs could push some out of business.

Ms Wilkinson declined interviews yesterday but said through a spokesman that there was nothing to fear in the bill.

"The bill will in no way stop the proud Kiwi tradition of growing and swapping veggies with friends and neighbours. It's focused on those selling food for profit.

"At most, the vast majority of small suppliers who do fall under the bill will simply be required to ensure that their food is safe to consume."

The spokesman also rejected criticism that food safety officers would have excessive powers under the bill, which would empower them to enter and search premises without a warrant in some circumstances and use any force necessary, while being immune from civil or criminal liability.

"The claims that they will start carrying guns and storming businesses and marae is alarmist nonsense," the spokesman said.

But Green Party primary production spokesman Steffan Browning said that, however unlikely, the fact that the bill as proposed would allow such a scenario was not good enough.

"Having any government agent to be free from any liability seems quite unusual. Our police, for example, don't even have that."

He said it would be ridiculous for small operators to be caught up in high levels of compliance.

An online petition claiming the bill impedes the basic right to share food has attracted 25,526 signatures.

FOOD POISONING

* Food-borne outbreaks for 2010

* Restaurant or cafe - 58.7 per cent

* Takeaway - 29 per cent

* Caterers - 5.8 per cent

* Supermarket or deli - 3.6 per cent

* Other - 2.9 per cent

Source: NZ Foodborne Disease Annual Report 2010

- NZ Herald

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