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Kaye: Protecting the integrity of the NZ food system

Hon Nikki Kaye
Minister for Food Safety

4 July 2013 Speech
Speech to New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology Annual Conference - Protecting the integrity of the New Zealand food system

It is a pleasure to join you today at this conference.

I would like to acknowledge all of you for the contribution you are making to science and our economic development.

As you know our country is a proud, food exporting nation. Our strong reputation for producing safe, high-quality food is fundamental to our success. We have achieved this success through the work of generations of scientists and trust in the integrity of our food production.

Many New Zealanders are proud of our quality food and beverage production. And many Kiwi families in both rural and urban New Zealand are connected to our food businesses. That is why we must continue to invest in innovation and in our reputation as good food producers.

Our economy relies heavily on the production of food for export, more so than any other developed country.

Food exports account for 54 per cent of New Zealand’s total export value and our food and beverage exports go to more than 197 markets.

We all understand that food safety is a key component of the growing number of New Zealand’s free trade agreements. We are trusted suppliers of safe and suitable food and our regulatory base is well recognised as world-leading.

However, it is important to acknowledge that as we trade with new and sometimes more complex markets, increasingly food assurance is not just about food safety, it is also about good communication, trust, risk management and reputation.

We need to strengthen market assurance and ensure global consumers have a better understanding of our food systems. It is important that consumers trust “Brand New Zealand” and believe it is authentic.

An area we need to back in providing these assurances are you, our scientists and scientific institutes. As Food Safety Minister, I understand that robust science is a crucial ingredient in a world-class food safety system.

I know food is an emotional area and I think we can do better at explaining to consumers just how rigorous the process is behind food getting to market.

We have high standards in terms of food safety but consumers also need to have better visibility of those standards.

Before I start on the detail of what the Government is doing I would like to let you know that on Tuesday this week, I discharged the Food Bill back to select committee for consideration. This is an important step in getting this Bill passed into law.

Business Growth Agenda
As you are aware, building export markets is a key part of our Government’s Business Growth Agenda.

Food has direct relevance to this because our food safety export assurances are essential for export market access.

As we look to grow exports, it is obvious that food will continue to play a vital part in building our economy.

This Government has set the ambitious target through its Business Growth Agenda of raising exports from 30 per cent to 40 per cent of GDP by 2025.

We are looking at ways we can better position ourselves to leverage off trade opportunities through our intellectual property and understanding of food safety systems. Science is an area where there is further potential.

New Zealand’s reputation for scientific integrity has strongly influenced the international standards which facilitate our food export trade.

We are at the top of our game because of the strong reputation of food scientists and New Zealand currently holds the vice presidency of the Terrestrial Animal Health Standards Commission under the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE); we co-chair three Codex working groups, including the very topical Infant Follow-on Formula working group; and we engage in science programmes with the European Union, and also with our fellow food safety Quads members Canada, the United States and Australia. Finally, we provide food safety capability building programmes under cooperation arrangements established under free trade agreements such as the ASEAN Australia New Zealand FTA.

I am personally very interested in investigating more cooperation agreements particularly in the Asia Pacific region. These enable New Zealand food businesses to be able to enter emerging markets at the forefront of investment opportunities because they are backed up by a world-class and world-recognised food system.
Increasing exports through ‘Foods for Health’
Another important area of development is the work that we have undertaken with Australia to develop the Health Claims Standard.

The Health Claims Standard sets up a clear framework for Australian and New Zealand businesses to make health claims about their products as long as they are backed up by science.

This can support New Zealand’s food innovation and industry development goals.

The Standard is one part of a wider piece of work - called “foods for health” – designed to realise more value from New Zealand’s food exports.

There is significant demand for high value products which provide a health benefit among our trading partners, particularly in Asia.

There is a huge global commercial and regulatory interest in food for health.
A recent Euromonitor review of 2012 sales trends suggests that “products offering special health benefits, such as fortified/functional foods, or those renowned for their natural health properties, drove global value sales, with rates above 7 percent”.

These growth rates were primarily fueled by demand in emerging markets such as China and Brazil.

Foods for health are products (or ingredients) with properties that meet a health need or provide a health benefit and that are labeled with scientifically substantiated health claims.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI’s) work programme directly relates to the High Value Nutrition National Science Challenge, and seeks to ensure that the regulatory settings are right for the development of high-value nutrition products by New Zealand-based companies, and their success in export markets.

It is my intention that the Ministry for Primary Industries will be focused on Foods for Health activities which include:
• developing new assurances related to health claims on foods and ingredients for export with the intention of increasing market value for these products (next 18-24 months, depending on industry demand);
• promoting a facilitative trade environment through cooperation (ongoing);
• promoting New Zealand’s regulatory frameworks as part of wider Government efforts to encourage foreign direct investment in R&D and the primary sector (ongoing); and
• technical market access negotiations (ongoing).

Growing markets and strengthening market assurance
By value, Asia is the largest export region for New Zealand with around 40 per cent of exports. China is our largest single export destination.

To help grow our food exports, MPI is undertaking work on providing government-to-government, and government-to-market assurances that go beyond food safety.

I have also asked MPI to investigate mechanisms to better collaborate and communicate with markets in Asia, particularly China, in areas such as science and labelling. This is particularly important for products such as infant formula.

You will be aware that I recently announced a work programme focused on infant formula. With the proliferation of companies wanting to leverage off brand New Zealand, we need to look at what can be done to ensure the integrity of our reputation.

The development of assurances relating to health claims for foods and the strictly regulated use of agricultural compounds and veterinary medicines in New Zealand are areas of work.

These assurances can enhance the value of our exports and help our exporters reach maximum returns for their products.

Negotiating better access for our products on the basis of science, and providing new kinds of assurances that add value to New Zealand’s exports are crucial for Government’s goal to double the value of New Zealand’s primary sector exports by 2025.

These changes will grow export markets and better safeguard the assurances provided by New Zealand. They will enable legitimate New Zealand exporters to benefit from New Zealand’s reputation as a safe producer.

Food Bill

The Food Bill will help safeguard New Zealand consumers and export led-economic growth.

As I have said, the Food Bill has gone back to the Primary Production select committee.

It is my intention that the committee consider the new changes that
have been agreed by Cabinet.

I have had very positive feedback on the proposed changes from organisations throughout New Zealand, including the Hospitality Association and other community organisations.

While I expect there will be some issues that come up as a result of submissions and I look forward to the report of the committee. After 10 years of consideration, it is long enough. We must pass this Bill.

This is an essential piece of legislation to modernise our food systems and keep up with trading partners.

The Bill will establish a flexible, risk-based food safety system that can meet the needs of consumers as well as the diversity of businesses operating in the food industry.

The Bill is intended to make it easier and – in most cases – less costly to run a food business. It takes a flexible, risk-based approach to the production of safe food.

The central feature of the Bill is a sliding scale where businesses that are higher risk from a food safety perspective will operate under more food safety requirements and checks than lower risk businesses.

It is timely that we introduce a more modern legislative framework that is focused on the risk of food not premises.
Conclusion
With our increasing reach into new markets, particularly in Asia, we have a huge opportunity to improve economic development. In some markets we have a competitive edge due to our small size and reputation.

A major part of our ability to do this will be our capacity to continue to be world leaders. That is why I am committed as Food Safety Minister to several priorities for our country.

Through the Food Bill, we will ensure our legislation better matches our modern, export-focused food businesses.

Through improved food assurances to consumers, either in New Zealand or in our export markets, we will be able to back our claims with good science and a world-class regulatory system.

I am also committed to working with industry on food assurances to give our markets and consumers a better understanding of the processes behind getting food to market that ensures what they eat is safe.

By working with other Ministers we will continue to invest in food science and our food systems. Thank you.


ENDS

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