Nothing is more basic than food. Most people encounter it at least three times a day. A quick check of the plus-size bodies on display at beaches shows that for many that number has risen to six or seven. So a reform to food-safety legislation will naturally attract some interest.

Much of the focus on the Food Bill has been on possible threats to the incomes of those who eke out a living at farmers' markets by selling their indifferent lemon cheese for $7.50 a smear.

I'm not one of those who looks forward to spending Sunday morning shuffling around a hall to fill up on samples of tapenade, but I realise that for many that is the highlight of their week.

At first glance, the fuss over the Food Bill looks like one of those brouhahas for which everyone lines up and assumes their ideological positions.


Social media hysterics on the left have wailed that the bill will be pushed through while "we" are on holiday.

Government MPs may indeed be planning to steal into Wellington under cover of darkness and meet at midnight to pass the bill in secret conclave. If not, they will probably rush it through after February 7 when Parliament is due to sit again.

On the right, Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson has adopted the Stephen Joyce strategy of using sneering in place of reasoned argument as she refuses to debate with her critics.

The bill is a strange document. For instance, what are we to make of a definition of food that - Clause 8, paragraph 1, subsection (b) (vi) - singles out "chewing gum, and any ingredient of chewing gum, and anything that is intended to be mixed with or added to chewing gum"?t

Leave aside legitimate concerns over ways in which the bill makes it easier for food conglomerates to increase their control over the industry, risks to propagation seeds and those poor souls flogging their lemon cheese, and we are left with some free and easy messing with civil liberties peppered through its pages.

Specifically the bill empowers food-safety officers - who can be anybody appointed as a food-safety officer, previous experience not essential - to enter any premises without a search warrant and use "any force that is reasonable" if they fear an offence is being committed. Oh, they do have to give oral or written notice, but not if that "would defeat the purpose of the exercise", a determination that appears to be left to their discretion.

The bill also has an extraordinary clause regarding how the food-safety officer will decide whether that jar of lemon cheese on your person is for sale or for your own use. "The food is presumed to be in the person's possession for the purpose of sale for human consumption until the contrary is proved."

In other words, your lemon cheese maker, unlike someone standing over a dead body with a bloody knife in his hand or a chap wearing a mask and running out of a bank clutching a sack with a dollar sign on the side, does not have the benefit of being presumed innocent until proved guilty.


The start of the year has brought the usual rash of predictions for the near future. Fortunately, the national short-term memory means these will be quickly forgotten. Humans have many strengths, but the ability to see into the future is not one of them.

Our inability to predict the future was neatly lampooned a few years ago in a book called Where's My Jetpack, which analysed what had happened to developments foreseen in the golden age of science fiction - travel to other planets, meals that come in the form of pills and, of course, jetpacks.

Author Daniel H. Wilson found that many of these developments were already here. A robot explorer has travelled to Mars. Supermarkets are full of artificially synthesised food. And New Zealand's Glenn Martin has made a working jetpack - it's just expensive and cumbersome.

The future is happening every day, it just looks different from what we were expecting. It comes to us from an angle rather than head-on. At the dawn of the internet most people saw its potential for communicating and exchanging information. Only a few saw that it would become a major way of doing business or having friends.

There are very few certainties but one is that the future will not be what we were expecting.

It hasn't been the sunniest holiday period, admittedly. But for those who have complained about the weather, long waits in traffic when heading home from the beach or delays caused by roadworks, I have only one word: Christchurch.