Submission on Food Safety Law Reform Bill
1. The Soil & Health Association of New Zealand Inc. (Soil & Health) was incorporated under the Incorporated Societies Act 1908 on 4 December 1942. Soil & Health’s objectives broadly include soil health and the promotion of organic gardening and farming. It has approximately 3000 members, chiefly composed of home gardeners and consumers, organic farmers and growers, secondary producers, retailers and restaurateurs. Its age and membership make it the oldest and largest representative organic organisation in New Zealand.
2. Soil & Health welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Food Safety Law Reform Bill (Bill). To know our food is safe, free from contamination and harmful residues is a fundamental human right. However the right to know exactly what we are eating is often taken away and even routinely denied to us. While growing our own food or buying local and organic food remains the best way to ensure that we know what we are eating and how it is grown, we must also know what has been sprayed onto crops and soil, added to foods, and used in the processing of the food we purchase.
3. Soil & Health is committed to advocating for clear and honest food labeling in Aotearoa New Zealand. We believe that transparent food labeling is fundamental in allowing people to make informed choices. Soil & Health therefore opposes any changes in the bill that may undermine food labeling in New Zealand.
4. Soil & Health recognizes that food safety is an issue in New Zealand. There is a growing awareness in society of how food determines health and people are now demanding to know what is in their food and how it is grown.
5. We believe that everyone has a right to safe and nutritious food that is grown in a way that enhances the environment. This covers the right to have food free from microbial contamination, harmful organisms, pesticides, harmful chemicals and heavy metal contaminants, harmful additives, irradiation and genetic engineering. We believe in the right of people to equip themselves the knowledge to make informed food choices. This is only achievable through clear and transparent food labeling.
6. Soil & Health strongly supports:
a) Mandatory Country of Origin Labelling (MCooL). We are disappointed that the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and successive governments have continually blocked MCooL and that there is only voluntary country of origin labeling by some supermarkets. We know that employment conditions vary between countries and support for different countries can play into people’s food purchasing decisions.
b) Labeling of the origin and production method for all meat, eggs and dairy products used in any food, and the source of all seafood. The country where the product is processed should also be identified.
c) Labeling standards for animal welfare claims.
d) All oils (e.g. palm oil, canola etc.) being specifically declared as an ingredient where used, not just as a ‘vegetable oil’.
e) Regulations and guidelines on claims about natural, sustainable, locally produced, fairly traded, and organic, being developed to ensure that people are not misled or deceived.
f) GE foods or foods containing GE ingredients being labeled as including or containing GE ingredients. We consider that GE food is inherently risky and is produced unsustainably, mostly with the use of large amounts of glyphosate based herbicides or similar, and can also include toxins engineered to be throughout the food. Trans-Tasman food standards accepted by New Zealand include GE Food labelling, and MPI’s role is to monitor and enforce food standards including that of GE Food, however this has not happened since 2003. We are disappointed that the existing food labeling law is being ignored and that we cannot easily choose between GE or not. Many processed foods have GE components in them however this is almost never declared.
g) Labeling of any irradiated food or food ingredient. There have been numerous scientific studies on the harmful effects of food irradiation on human health. Irradiation changes the molecular structure of food, potentially forming toxic chemicals linked to: cancer, organ damage, genetic mutations, immune system disorders, tumours, stunted growth, reproductive problems and nutritional deficiencies. Irradiated foods however, especially from Australia, are becoming more common as some other measures to prevent the risk of Queensland fruit fly coming in through fruit and veges have been stopped. Australian tomatoes, courgettes, capsicum, papaya, mango, lychee, melons and more, are likely to be irradiated. We understand that Queensland fruit fly is an issue, however consider that there are better means of dealing with this issue, such as other phyto-sanitary methods. In in the meantime we consider that all irradiated food should be clearly labeled, as intended by the Trans-Tasman regulations. Currently irradiated food labels are difficult to recognize and causes confusion for consumers. In some cases there may not be any labeling at all. We consider that the words “irradiated” or “treated with irradiation” or “treated with ionizing radiation” should be used very clearly on labels.
h) Meaningful pesticide residue testing. MPI has the responsibility of ensuring food is safe from pesticide residues. The Trans-Tasman agency Food Standards Australia New Zealand with input from MPI determines what are said to be safe Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) for fruit and vegetables. MRLs are set so that farmers know how much to limit their pesticide use to stay within the regulators established safety parameters of MRLs. We do not agree with the assumptions made around setting pesticide residue safety limits, as combinations of different types of chemicals are rarely considered, and settings do not adequately consider the vulnerability of developing children. We consider that the safety assessment guidelines have been developed with too much influence from industry and are therefore not independent and miss important human health risks because of narrow guidelines. Further we consider that MPI does not adequately police pesticide residues. MPI is already more than a year late in reporting the normally 5 yearly New Zealand Total Diet Study (NZTDS). The NZTDS assesses exposure to chemical residues, contaminants and selected nutrients from foods representative of the average diet within the New Zealand population. MPI considers any residue under the MRL is safe and focuses on the results that are over MRLs. We consider that MPI misrepresents the results. For example MPI fails to communicate to consumers that not all foods are tested for glyphosate and that most fruit and vegetables in the supermarket will have at least one pesticide residue. We consider that MPI needs to test more often and ensure that consumers know what is really in their food.
i) Supporting small scale and local growers and producers. Small food enterprises such as artisan cheese producers, small herd raw milk suppliers, bakers, and preserves sellers, Farmers Markets stall holders and gate sales add to our society and can include the experiences of choice, variety, taste and flavour and closer connection between suppliers and consumers, urban and rural. We consider that exemptions should be included in the Food Act 2014 and Animal Products Act 1999 that explicitly allow for requirements and charges for small business operators to be kept to a minimum and not harmonized with the charges required for larger enterprises, where failure in food safety can result in much more significant outcomes. The Food Act 2014 was never intended to create onerous compliance requirements on small producers and processes, however this is exactly what has happened. The Bill is an opportunity to correct that. We consider that the government should encourage more variety into both rural and urban food choices.
7. Soil & Health requests that GE and irradiated food is sufficiently labelled to allow people to make informed choices without being misled and that better compliance enforcement is included in this Food Safety Law Reform exercise.
8. We believe in the right of people to be able to access safe and nutritious food, grow diverse and nutritious food, and equip themselves with the resources and knowledge needed to sustain themselves and their communities. The Food Safety Reform Bill should allow and provide for this.
9. Soil & Health wish to be in heard in support of our submission.
Name: Mischa Davis
Position: Policy Advisor
The Soil & Health Association
PO Box 340002
Phone: 06 8775534