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O’Connor’s December surprise causes legal mess

Food Safety Minister Damien O’Connor must explain why he has exposed the Government to legal action by ramming through new Mānuka honey standards without appropriate consultation, National’s Food Safety spokesperson David Bennett says.

“The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has been forced to withdraw the standards it announced only six weeks ago, because the Government tried to ignore months of work and consultation and instead bluntly dictated new terms to the industry.

“The decision also comes after NZ Beekeepers launched legal action over the definition.

“Under the previous Government the honey industry had six months to understand the proposed new standards and test their products against them, but Mr O’Connor chose to spring changes on them in December without consultation.

“He was warned this could lead to legal action but went ahead anyway. While NZ Beekeeping has now withdrawn its legal action after the Government backdown Mr O’Connor must now shoulder the blame for exposing the government to judicial review and antagonising the sector in the first place,” Mr Bennett says.

The standards are aimed at protecting the $180 million a year Mānuka honey industry by creating an agreed scientific definition for the product, to prevent its reputation being tarnished by knock-off products.

“Thousands of New Zealanders depend on the Mānuka honey industry for their livelihoods and it’s irresponsible of the Government to be so cavalier,” Mr Bennett says.

“This sort of bull-at-a-gate behaviour by Mr O’Connor serves no one well. The Government needs to explain why it made such a hasty decision, what happens next, and how it will maintain the credibility of the standards in what is a growing and important export market,” Mr Bennett says.

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