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Bunkle Address To Food Safety Consumer Forum

Hon Phillida Bunkle Speech

Food Safety Consumer Forum
Turnbull House
Wellington

Good morning and welcome.
I would like to start this morning by paying tribute to all women in this room. Today is Suffrage Day and I think it's important to acknowledge the anniversary of the New Zealand woman's right to vote. We were the first country in the world with women's suffrage – and I'm sure New Zealand will continue to show how it can lead the world in representative thinking, ideas and policies.

I would like to think that today's forum is a good example of the New Zealand Government recognising the importance of consumer representation in shaping and administering government policies.

I am acutely aware of public dissatisfaction with current levels of consumer representation and I believe consumers are right to think that too often their interests are outweighed by bigger groups, or bigger business. I would like to think other governments will follow our suit and similarly recognise consumer representation as core part of decision-making. In working towards this ideal, it's vital we get it right.

I must say that today's consumers are suspicious of what they are told about food, whether its about identifying what is in the food and the effects it might have on our bodies. I really believe informed choice is going to be an integral issue in the next few years, as society becomes savvy about our choices in food.

It's no secret that I have been a champion of informed consent. This has been especially critical in the women's health area, but informed consent, or should I say, informed choice, is also a consumer issue with food.

New Zealand and Australia are currently working on a GM food labelling regime that will lead the world. By taking this step, I think this government has clearly acknowledged that we have heard what has been a loud consumer voice. The work you do today will be vital in ensuring that that consumer voice is guaranteed to be heard at the highest levels of decision making.

The easiest place to start preaching this message, is at home and I would like to see government agencies take a leading role in this. These agencies need to make sure that consumers are given a seat at all the tables where decisions are made on food safety issues.

A stand-alone food agency is already an option for this government. The idea of such an agency has many attractions and certainly increases the transparency and would require the appointment of a food minister.

However if a food agency with another department is chosen, I would probably argue strongly for suitable mechanism to ensure that consumer interests in the food argument have equal weight and opportunity to be heard. No firm decisions have been made in this area.

I plan to push for other mechanisms to ensure consumer interests are adequately presented. For example the creation of a Food council would allow sector interest groups equal access to the new food agency. The idea of this is to ensure consumer issues are brought to the attention of the new agency through council representation from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.

My colleague, the Health Minister Annette King, has already signalled her determination for the agency to have a clear and transparent health focus. I for my part, intend to ensure that consumers have confidence in the agency's ability to protect them through credible monitoring, surveillance and enforcement.

But that is an idea that is still being worked through. In the meantime, we are working on consumer representation.

This year the Ministry of Consumer Affairs created for the first time the position of Consumer Representation advisor.

This advisor has a key role in our plans to enhance consumer representation by:
 developing good policies on representation
 clarifying the role and value of consumer representation in that policy development
 creating mechanisms to identify, select, support and develop effective consumer representatives.

You have a number of distinguished speakers lined up for today in particular I would like to welcome our international guests Dr Groth, Dr Yeatman and Pamela Chan. With your diverse but compatible expertise, I am sure that today's forum will disclose challenges for all our futures and hopefully move us a few steps closer to solutions.

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