The Government has backed down on enforcing packaging regulations that were intended to protect young children against household cleansers and laundry powders.

The changes would have forced manufacturers to change from using cardboard packaging to plastic bottles, to remove plastic scoops and stop selling refills for trigger nozzle packs.

Former National Party MP Katherine Rich, who is now chief executive of the Food and Grocery Council, has welcomed the decision, saying it "will save the grocery sector many millions of dollars".

Changes to hazardous substances rules in 2006 required companies selling potentially dangerous household chemicals to provide child-resistant packaging, but allowed exemptions if they complied with relevant requirements in the United States, European Union or Australia.

But those exemptions were to expire at the end of this year, a deadline which triggered significant lobbying by the sector.

As part of the campaign, Mrs Rich told Environment Minister Nick Smith that "a tsunami of compliance costs would have been unleashed upon the grocery sector".

"Expiry of certain provisions overseen by Environmental Risk Management Authority [Erma] would have forced companies to shift from using environmentally-friendly cardboard packaging to plastic bottles in order to meet regulatory requirements," she said.

"This would have sent 30 million extra plastic bottles to landfills, increased compliance costs and wrecked domestic powder production."

She said the changes would also have stopped manufacturers providing a handy plastic scoop and selling refills for trigger nozzle packs.

The cleaning products industry would have been "thrown into turmoil" for no apparent safety gain to the public.

An Australasian consumer, cosmetic, hygiene and speciality products lobby this year applied for some of the child-resistant packaging requirements under group standards ranging from cleaning, dental and embalming products to surface coatings, fertilisers and fuel additives to be removed.

It also asked Erma to permanently continue the exemptions for products to be packaged to Australian, EU and US requirements.

In October 2006, Erma chief executive Rob Forlong congratulated the Safekids lobby which had successfully called for child-resistant packaging to be made mandatory. "Everyone wants to keep kids safe," he said.

Hazardous substances packaging regulations were changes not only for corrosive substances, but toxic substances which might be accessible to children.

Previously, child resistant packaging for domestic products was not legally mandatory and was only advised by the Ministry of Health, but Mr Forlong said new group standards for hazardous substances passed in June 2006 would apply generally from July 2007.

Safekids NZ director Ann Weaver said yesterday that she was satisfied with the regulations.

Injuries and illness caused to children who ingested dishwashing powder products had significantly decreased since regulations were put in place in 2007 to prevent the use of caustic powders, she said.

- NZPA, STAFF REPORTER