New food safety laws are forcing childcare centres to stop providing food for kids, or increase fees, the Early Childhood Council says.
Centres were now finding themselves facing bills into the thousands of dollars in inspections and compliance fees, which is likely to be passed onto parents, Early Childhood Council boss Peter Reynolds said.
The Food Act 2014 came into force in March, and was designed to ensure all food sold in New Zealand is safe.
A central feature to the act is a sliding scale, where high risk businesses - such as a meat pie manufacturer - operate under more stringent food safety requirements than low risk businesses - such as a corner dairy that sells the meat pie.
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However, Reynolds said many centres now felt "deceived" by information provided by the Government in the run up to the law coming into force, and were being hit by huge inspection fees.
"Before the Bill became law, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) officials told us inspection services would cost round $300 a time. But this isn't happening," he said.
"According to feedback from childcare services, centres are instead being quoted $1000 to $1500, with one quoted $4000."
Providers were exploiting businesses who are now obliged to have an inspection, Reynolds said, and were treating the situation "like a lolly scramble".
Many centres have "had enough", he said, and were now opting out of providing food.
Others were hiking fees, forcing parents to cover the higher costs.
The new rules had made early childhood education centres less safe, Reynolds said, because most food poisoning and allergic reactions in ECEs are as a result of food prepared at home.
He described the new laws as "a nonsense", and said they had no place in childcare centres.
"For example, centres that cook and serve food and charge a parent fee are subject to expensive compliance rules and inspections. But centres that cook and serve identical food, but don't charge a parent fee, are not.
"This means two centres, providing the same service, are treated completely differently by the new law depending on whether or not they charge parents a fee for the food."
Meanwhile, home-based childcare services were exempt from the new laws, he said, as they were regarded as a domestic rather than commercial setting.
"This means the Act regards New Zealand's largest home-based provider, PORSE, owned by a company that is listed on the share market, as a 'domestic' undertaking, while a small two-teacher community childcare centre is defined as a 'commercial' undertaking," Reynolds said.
He called on the newly implemented law to be reviewed.
MPI was approached for comment, but said it could not respond to the claims tonight.
Separate food legislation - the Food Safety Law Reform Bill - is currently before Parliament, at Select Committee stage. A report is due out in February.