General policy statement
This Bill is an omnibus Bill introduced in accordance with Standing Order 263(a) whose amendments deal with an inter-related topic that can be regarded as implementing a single broad policy. The Bill makes improvements and enhancements to 3 Acts governing the food safety system, improving their alignment, operation, and design so as to better protect human health, and maintain and strengthen New Zealand’s reputation as a supplier of safe and suitable food both domestically and internationally.
The Bill addresses the recommendations of the independent Government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate Contamination Incident (the Inquiry) that need statute change to implement. The Inquiry was established in September 2013 following the Fonterra botulism scare that made global headlines and had significant consequences for New Zealand’s reputation as a supplier of safe food. The Inquiry reported initially in December 2013 and again in November 2014.
The Inquiry found that the incident was not a result of the failure of New Zealand’s food regulatory system. However, it recommended some improvements to ensure the system remains among the best in the world. Most of the Inquiry’s recommendations have been able to be implemented through operational means. The Bill addresses the recommendations that need statutory change to implement.
The Inquiry focused solely on the dairy sector. However, the Bill amends all 3 of the main food safety Acts—the Animal Products Act 1999, the Food Act 2014, and the Wine Act 2003—to ensure the recommended improvements apply across the whole system.
The fundamental model of the current system is not being changed. Food enterprises are responsible for developing and operating under risk-based plans and programmes that identify the business’s food safety risks and set out how those risks will be managed, with oversight by the relevant regulator (either the Ministry for Primary Industries or a territorial authority). Verification of compliance with these plans and programmes is undertaken by an officially recognised third party.
To ensure sufficient information on risks is readily available throughout the system, the Bill enables regulations to set requirements on the form and manner (including time frames) in which risk-based plans and programmes must be supplied to the regulator for registration. It also requires operators to supply copies of their plans and programmes to their verifiers, and verifying agencies, and to retain copies.
The Bill provides for regulations to set the traceability and recall requirements that are essential to food safety and maintenance of New Zealand’s reputation.
To strengthen the verification function, the Bill clarifies that the primary accountability of recognised persons and agencies when carrying out their functions is to the regulator, and enables information that is relevant to the competence of accredited agencies to be passed to the regulator. The Bill also provides for verification regulations to, where necessary, apply to businesses other than operators using risk management plans and programmes.
To standardise the compliance methods available across the system, the Bill adds the main enforcement tools in the Food Act 2014 to the older Animal Products Act 1999 and the Wine Act 2003. The Bill also improves the statutory powers available for responses to food safety incidents by enhancing the Director-General’s ability to, when there is a serious risk to public health, require relevant information from persons who hold it. It also aligns provisions for Director-General statements to both inform and protect the public.
The Bill improves the design of the delegated legislation under the 3 Acts by removing duplication and providing for best practice use of regulations and notices. It also specifically identifies those legislative instruments that are disallowable, in line with the Legislation Act 2012.
The Bill helps to modernise and future-proof the food regulatory system by making explicit the ability to use automated electronic systems for service delivery and transactions. It also includes technical amendments to clarify the intent of certain ambiguous provisions and correct drafting errors, and other minor enhancements.