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King Appointed Minister-Designate For Food Safety

King Appointed As Minister-Designate For Food Safety

Minister-designate for Food Safety Annette King says it is planned to establish the New Zealand Food Safety Authority by 1 July this year.

“I welcome this new challenge. While responsibility for food issues has traditionally been shared between the health and agriculture portfolios, food safety is clearly a prime health concern.

“The work I have been doing in the past two years, particularly in relation to food labelling, has reinforced my interest across the whole spectrum of food issues.

"Establishment of the new Food Safety Authority represents good news for all New Zealanders," Ms King said. "Its work will affect all our lives."

Ms King said the authority's minister would be advised by a 10-member advisory board that will assess the authority's performance. “This board will include consumer representation, as well as producer representation. It is essential that consumers’ interests in food safety are effectively addressed.

“Until the authority is established, the Minister of Agriculture and I will remain responsible for our respective parts of the food administration system, and I will be working closely with Jim Sutton and the Ministers of Finance and State Services on legislation and communication and funding issues during the transition period,” Ms King said.

Ends

New Food Safety Authority for New Zealand
Questions and Answers

Why is the Government establishing the New Zealand Food Safety Authority?
At the present time there are two separate regimes for food administration. The Ministry of Health (MoH) administers the Food Act (covering food sold on the domestic market and imported food). The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) administers other food related legislation including the Animal Products Act, the Meat Act, the Dairy Industry Act and the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act. MAF legislation is for the most part aimed at New Zealand’s primary processing and exports.

As a result of these two different regimes, producers, processors and consumers face issues that include:
• Inconsistencies and a lack of coordination in the way food safety is managed
• Increasing consumer concerns about food safety issues
• A shortage of skills in some specialist areas in New Zealand, and
• The potential for inconsistencies to develop in New Zealand’s approach to imports and exports.

Bringing the two regimes together will help address these concerns and also provide a strong coordinated approach to reducing the incidences of food-borne illness within New Zealand.

What benefits are expected from the authority?
A single authority will reduce duplication and allow the management of food related risks from “farmgate to the consumer’s plate”. Integrating the regulatory functions covering food safety and food issues for New Zealand food producers and processors will also ensure effective use of scarce resources. For example, pooling the resources of both regulatory agencies will mean greater depth of resources in the areas of microbiology, risk assessment and toxicology.

Another benefit will be a consistent approach to regulation of all food production, whether for export or for sale on the domestic market. It will also strengthen the ability to determine an “appropriate level of protection” for New Zealand consumers.

How will the views of consumers and other stakeholders be heard?
Bringing together the skills from the MoH with those of MAF will provide a more integrated focus on New Zealand consumer interests. In addition, a variety of mechanisms to provide for stakeholder input will be established, including a Food Safety Advisory Board, which will provide independent advice to the Minister.

What will the new authority mean for New Zealand consumers?
For New Zealand consumers, the authority will provide a greater level of confidence in the food we purchase, as all food producers will need to meet required standards.

The implementation of the “regulatory model” will ensure that food producers and processors, are audited regularly and appropriate action is taken to ensure they are complying with the rules. Consumers will also benefit from having one authority primarily accountable for food safety matters.

How will the new authority interact with particular groups such as Maori and Pacific Island people?
Through building on and enhancing the current communication channels of MAF, MoH and Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA).

How will a “whole of Government” approach to food issues be maintained?
Food issues are of importance to a number of other Government agencies, including MoH, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Economic Development and Consumer Affairs. Proposals are being considered on how to ensure an effective “whole of government” approach to food safety strategic issues.

What will this mean for Health Protection Officers and Environmental Health Officers?
Initially there will be no change in the work of these groups. It is vital that current capacity is maintained. Future regulatory arrangements will be enhanced following thorough consultation.

Who will investigate food poisoning outbreaks?
Initial investigations will continue to be undertaken by District Health Board Health Protection Officers. Once a food-related source of the infection is identified, the Food Safety Authority will be responsible for determining the appropriate action. It is proposed that an 0800 number will be set up to enable people throughout New Zealand to report suspected cases of food contamination and food-borne illness.

What is the “regulatory model”?
The “regulatory model” is the term used to describe the risk-based approach we are taking to food safety. The model covers food production and processing from the farm or sea to shop shelf. It relies on Government acting as the regulator and setting appropriate sanitary measures (in consultation with stakeholders). Industry takes full responsibility for producing food and food related products that are “fit for purpose” using risk based management plans, and independent verification confirms that industry has complied with its plans.

By applying the model consistently, the regulator can focus on food producers, processors, or manufacturers who are working outside the agreed framework. This ensures that all food that is marketed is in compliance with New Zealand standards.

The model maximises industry’s involvement in the safety and wholesomeness of its products through the use of internationally recognised Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) risk management techniques.
These techniques identify hazards in the food production process, and control them when they occur. HACCP requires food safety to be integrated into the very core of management functions in the work place, rather than being an ancillary activity.

The rigidly prescriptive standards of times past are also on the way out. Instead of prescribing “you must do it this way”, the new generation of standards are outcome based, i.e. “you can do it the way which best suits your circumstances, but you must achieve these food safety outcomes”. Industry thus takes more responsibility for producing safe food and gains more flexibility for processing innovation while ensuring maximum protection for consumers.

What is proposed for the Food Harmonisation Project?
The Food Harmonisation Project was established in June 1999 as an interim measure until a decision was made on an integrated authority for food. It was designed to ensure that MAF and MoH harmonised their regulatory systems as much as possible as a first step towards managing a major work programme across two Government agencies with differing priorities, skill sets and legislative provisions. The project has focused primarily on food safety programmes and their application in New Zealand. The recent decision to establish the authority overcomes some of these problems. Efforts to align the requirements of the Food Act, the Dairy Industry Act and the Animal Products Act will continue. Ultimately it is anticipated that one omnibus “Food Act” will replace the multiple Acts presently administered.

Will it mean Food Safety Programmes will become compulsory?
It is anticipated that, in time, all food producers will be required to operate under risk-based management programmes. Small and medium size enterprises will receive help to implement these programmes in the form of generic templates, approved codes of practice and other assistance.

What does this mean for ANZFA?
ANZFA is responsible for developing standards for food labelling and composition for both New Zealand and Australia. The Joint Food Code, developed in this ANZFA process, already in force, is to be fully implemented in December 2002. The New Zealand treaty with the Australian Commonwealth Government, which governs the ANZFA relationship, specifically excludes food safety issues from the activities ANZFA undertakes for New Zealand.

The new authority will take over the management of the partnership arrangement with ANZFA from the MoH.

What will the new authority mean for New Zealand food exporters?
New Zealand exporters will continue under their existing regimes but will avoid the problems associated with having two separate regimes and inconsistent approaches.

Will it affect New Zealand’s credibility internationally?
MAF expertise is widely respected in international forums and New Zealand is well known for the leading edge approach it has taken to food safety programmes. In addition, MAF export certification is recognised for its credibility and integrity internationally. This helps facilitate the export of more than $11 billion of food products annually. Retaining the links with MAF will be essential through the establishment of the new authority. This will be done by ensuring that the links to MAF are clearly explained and by MAF personnel continuing to represent New Zealand in relevant forums.

Will there be increased compliance costs for small to medium sized business?
It is anticipated that there will be some increased compliance costs. Consumers are demanding greater protection from food-borne risks and improvements are needed.

The authority will, however, work in close consultation with the food industry to ensure that risks are managed in a cost-effective manner.

Who is going to run the authority?
The head of the authority will be appointed by the Director General of MAF and will be accountable for the day to day running of the authority.

What skills are currently present in each authority and what will happen to them?
The MoH currently has 15 staff working in its Food Group, including food science and technology, nutrition, science and policy analysis. All will transfer to the new authority. The MoH’s residual food-related functions following the transfer will include developing nutrition policy and investigating outbreaks of food borne illness.

MAF currently has approximately 110 staff working on food safety issues. Their areas of expertise include food science and technology, microbiology, toxicology, epidemiology, veterinary science, public health, policy analysis and risk assessment and communication.

There are also staff in MAF Policy working on food safety issues who will transfer to the new authority.

What form will the new authority take?
The authority will be a semi-autonomous body attached to MAF. The head of the authority will be accountable to the Director General of MAF and have strong reporting links to the Minister responsible for Food Safety. The authority will contract with MAF for corporate services and will retain MAF’s international links. It will also maintain links with the MoH and other key government agencies via Memoranda of Understanding. The independence of the authority will be established using delegated authority.

Is a communication strategy planned to outline the changes?
Yes. As soon as a number of outstanding issues are resolved, a communication strategy will be implemented both within New Zealand for domestic consumers and externally to ensure international trading partners are aware of the proposed changes.


Will the authority have its own Vote?
Yes. A separate Vote will be established. This will initially come from combining existing food safety funding from the Health and Agriculture and Forestry Votes.

How important is food to the New Zealand economy?
As well as the vital role safe food plays in the health of New Zealanders, more than 50 per cent of New Zealand’s export earnings – some $11 billion per annum – come from food or food related exports and this figure is expected to increase substantially over the next 10 years. Approximately 80 per cent of all the food produced in New Zealand is exported.

Some 30,000 businesses are licensed to retail, manufacture or process food and many more jobs depend on food producers, processors and retailers supplying both the export and domestic sectors.

Another aspect of our economy dependent on our reputation for safe food is tourism. New Zealand’s growing reputation as a destination must be protected and further enhanced by maintaining and improving the safety of our food.


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