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NZFSA mandate confirms consumer safety comes first

Lianne Dalziel

18 September, 2008
NZFSA mandate confirms consumer safety comes first

A new mandate agreed by Cabinet for the New Zealand Food Safety Authority gives unambiguous confirmation that consumer protection is the organisation's number one priority.

Food Safety Minister Lianne Dalziel told delegates at NZFSA's annual conference in Rotorua today that the adulteration of milk used to make infant formula in China showed how important it was for consumer safety that countries enforce rigorous food safety standards.

"The situation in China at the moment proves that the only real protection against problems in the food supply is to put rigorous controls in place every step of the way – from farm to fork, from paddock to plate, from grass to glass," Lianne Dalziel said.

NZFSA's previous mandate spelled out that its role was to protect and promote public health and safety and to facilitate access to markets for New Zealand food and food-related markets.

"NZFSA has come under criticism from those who say this was a dual mandate and that it was not possible to fully serve the interests of both consumers and businesses at the same time. There was a concern that trade interests would subsume consumer interests, but I've never accepted that," Lianne Dalziel said.

"I hope that New Zealand's swift and unequivocal response to the China infant milk tragedy makes it clear that it is the consumer interest that overrides all others.

"We have rigorous standards in place in New Zealand and we must insist on those standards being adopted around the world. Nobody deserves less. The lesson we must learn from this experience is that we haven't put these rules in place to protect our trade interests or our reputation as a nation; they are by-products of our primary interest in the health and well-being of consumers of our food.

"We must insist that these practices that provide New Zealand consumers with the level of assurances we can offer are international standards and accepted everywhere, not as a compliance cost to business, but as an obligation we owe to everyone," Lianne Dalziel said.

Lianne Dalziel said the Authority's revised mandate was simple and unambiguous:

"The New Zealand Food Safety Authority's mandate is to protect consumers by providing an effective food regulatory programme covering food produced and consumed in New Zealand as well as imports and exports of food products."

Following on from this statement are a list of guidelines the NZFSA has to take into account but it ends: "In pursuing this mandate the overriding priority will always be to protect consumers."

The mandate was clarified following recommendations made in April by Dr Stuart Slorach, an international food safety expert who reviewed NZFSA's risk management decision-making processes following criticism of its handling of the A1/A2 milk issue.

The government has responded positively to the 39 recommendations made by Dr Slorach, including directing NZFSA to bring together a group of experts to assess the need for further research following the findings of the European Food Safety Authority's review of the science of A1/A2 milk. This review is expected to be completed by the end of the year.


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