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Labour offers way out of food fight

Labour has offered the National Government a way through the log jam in a select committee which has seen plans for a new food safety agency stalled.

The proposed Food Assurance Authority would combine the relevant functions of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture.

Labour Agriculture spokesperson Jim Sutton says Labour will facilitate the rapid passage of enabling legislation, combining administration of all the main Acts providing for the assurance of food safety: the Food Act, the Dairy Industry Act and the new Animal Products Act currently passing through the Primary Production Select committee.

"Currently there are problems with the interfaces between these pieces of legislation. Consumer confidence around the world is currently shaken by the dioxin contamination scare in Belgium. The BSE scare in Britain and E.Coli in America are also still fresh in people's minds and we can't afford to drop the ball on this important issue.

"Next year, after the election, may be too late."

Mr Sutton said the National Government has resisted Labour's policy of making the new Food Assurance Authority stand alone and independent, instead wanting it to be part of MAF.

He said Labour's new suggestion of combining all three main food safety Acts in the one independent agency, should be a formula Cabinet could agree to.

"Labour has done its homework on this. We believe that if the Minister picks up his phone and checks with the key stakeholders, including consumer interests, he will find they agree with it.

"After all, what is at stake here is the safety of food New Zealanders eat, as well as our reputation in vital overseas markets.

"For the National government to wilfully delay sorting out this problem, merely because it is too proud to accept help from the Opposition during the run-up to the election, would be disgraceful in the extreme."

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