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Dalziel: Launch of Food Control Plans

Hon Lianne Dalziel
Minister of Commerce, Minister for Food Safety,
Associate Minister of Justice, MP for Christchurch East

Monday July 21 Speech Notes

Launch of Food Control Plans

Speech by Food Safety Minister Lianne Dalziel to NZFSA’s stakeholders
Beehive, Wellington

Good evening everyone and thank you for coming to acknowledge and celebrate the launch of the most significant change in New Zealand's domestic food regulatory framework in nearly 30 years.

Regulation is often portrayed as an unnecessary barrier to business – a negative expression of the state's imposition of obligations that may or may not have been provided for voluntarily. This negativity usually does not survive a crisis or major event, where the call for governments 'to do something' drown out those that demand that the market be left alone to deliver the right results.

New Zealand has a current regulatory framework to ensure as best we can that food that is sold in our restaurants and cafés is safe. The Food Act of 1981 is out of date. It was designed in an era that allowed for prescriptive rules to be written around the design and cleanliness of premises, as opposed to a focus on the preparation and handling of food, and an inspection regime that measured performance against those rules on an annual basis – thus providing a snapshot of compliance on a given day.

New Zealand has an extraordinarily high rate of food borne illness, which has an enormous cost on our economy as well as the personal cost it imposes on families. The new regulatory framework is designed to place the onus of selling safe and suitable food on the food operators. The Domestic Food Review was commenced five years ago and as a result a new Food Bill will be introduced into Parliament later this year.

When it became apparent late last year that drafting complications were going to delay getting the new Bill into the House, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority decided, with support from local councils, to introduce Food Control Plans on a voluntary basis under the current Food Act. And that is what makes tonight's launch unique. No-one had to agree to go down this track, but of the 73 local councils in New Zealand, 45 covering around 75 per cent of our population have signed up. And I want to pay tribute to each and every one of them for doing so. This is a remarkable level of commitment to embracing a much more appropriate regulatory framework for our domestic food industry and you are to be congratulated for wanting to be leaders as opposed to followers.

So why have we gone to the trouble to make these changes now, before the new law is passed? From my perspective this gives government the opportunity to road-test the new approach, which can only be good for the legislative process. It also gives us a chance to test the draft Bill against expert opinion, informed by what is essentially the largest action research project you could imagine. I believe that it is important to remember the following points:

• The current regulatory system focuses on finding faults at food premises and on applying a fixed set of standards and rules more concerned with what are collectively called 'floors, walls and ceilings' rather than the food. This 'inspection' approach often leads to many food operators believing that "I'm alright unless you tell me I'm going wrong";
• The prescriptive method of regulating food businesses can add extra expense for food operators when they're forced to comply with outdated and unnecessary rules;
• The new 'risk-based' system encourages operators to be innovative and to think about their whole process, what they're trying to achieve and how they can do so while still producing safe food;
• The current regulatory system is already fragmented with a range of bylaws operating in different parts of the country, so the opportunity to build on the momentum of the review without further inconsistencies being developed provided real impetus for the Voluntary Implementation Programme.

Introducing Food Control Plans under the current law was an ambitious undertaking. But, ever since that decision was made, many people from both within NZFSA and externally have pursued this goal with vigour. Tonight you can see some of the tangible results of the system – the resources that each food operator will receive to help them implement their own food safety management system. However, most of the work it has taken to get this show on the road has taken place behind the scenes.

NZFSA undertook what we think has been the largest ever training scheme of local council officers by central government in years with 11 training sessions at 9 venues around the country introducing and reinforcing to 130 council Environmental Health Officers and managers the principles and procedures underpinning the new system. Later this year, NZFSA is hoping to accept another intake of councils – several have already indicated that they hope to join – a sure sign we're on the right track. This will mean another round of training.

Changes were required to current regulations to allow local council officers to become Food Act Officers – this change meant consulting with stakeholders and ensuring the existing legal framework could be utilised this way.

The tool at the centre of the system we're launching here tonight, the Food Control Plan for food service and catering businesses, is clear, simple, easy to use and right up with best practice anywhere in the world. Risk-based food regulation is where modern food legislation is heading internationally – that means putting the right measures in place to address the risks that need to be managed. But as a former Minister for Small Business I know that SMEs can find this approach more challenging, because for them it is easier to tick boxes than it is to take the time to find out what suits their particular business – "tell me what to do and I'll do it" is the constant refrain from this sector.

And that is why the template or 'off the peg' plan was designed – the approach gives New Zealand businesses the certainty they are looking for and New Zealand consumers are given the assurances around safe food handling practices that they need.

The Food Control Plan has been well trialled and this version in fact contains many suggestions from those involved in the trial. The Voluntary Implementation Programme will enable us to further refine these plans before the law is changed.

In the UK, the Food Standards Agency has implemented the wonderfully named “Safer food, better business” programme. It really sums up what their system and ours is trying to convey - that safer food is a better business proposition. That was reinforced in the feedback we had from businesses that helped us trial the plan.

NZFSA’s Food Control Plan provides a complete food safety management system for small food businesses (of which there are at least 20, 000 across the country). It covers each step in the food production and handling processes and provides guidance for keeping food safe at each of those steps. There is a diary where key actions can be recorded, as well as things that have gone wrong and what was done to remedy the situation.

The plan is accompanied by a range of supporting resources – all designed to reinforce key food safety messages. There’s the DVD you can see playing tonight, three posters, a fridge magnet about safe temperatures, a handwash sticker designed to go above the staff handwash basin which describes ‘how to wash your hands’, as well as a thermometer to ensure chicken is cooked to a safe temperature.

As I said before as a former Minister for Small Business, I have a particular interest in ensuring that the new system is ‘small business-friendly’ and that the tools are designed with this in mind. I was also pleased to see that NZFSA have ensured that the first language of the food operator is not a barrier to participation with the Food Control Plan available in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Hindi.

So thank you to everyone here tonight who has contributed to getting this process to this point.

Can I acknowledge particularly the NZFSA team – it has only been a standalone department for a year and to think they have been able to lead such a major voluntary programme says a lot about their commitment to the policy that will drive our new Food Act.

To everyone here from local councils who have accepted the challenge to become early adapters, congratulations for being leaders in this area. I understand that running two systems – both the voluntary programme as well as continuing with the existing system – will mean careful management on your part; so for those of you stepping up to the challenge, thank you!

And on that note “I pronounce the Food Control Plan and its associated systems and processes launched” and wish you all well in its implementation.

Thank you.


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