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NZ impotent in face of Big Brother

November 18, 2003

NZ impotent in face of Big Brother

The body that regulates what goes into New Zealander's food can be commandeered by the Australian Federal Health Minister, while New Zealand's input into this process is limited to 'consultation', according to documents obtained by Green MP Sue Kedgley.

Section 11, subsection (1) of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Act 1991 states that: "the [Australian Federal Health] Minister may give written directions to the Authority as to the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers and the Authority must comply with those directions".

"It is absurd that the body that makes decisions of the safety of New Zealand food is so dominated by Australia that FSANZ 'must comply' with directions from an Australian Minister, when there is no similar provision for the New Zealand Health Minister," said Ms Kedgley, the Green Safe Food Spokesperson.

"The only restraint the FSANZ Act places on the Australian Minister is that they 'must consult ... before he or she gives a direction'.

"Consultation has become a byword for governments making decisions and then telling those affected what has been decided. How can we be sure that when the Australian government issues directives they are in the interests of New Zealand?" asked Ms Kedgley. "The answer is that we cannot."

The Ombudsman ruled last week that that the Official Information Act did not apply to the body that sets policy guidelines on food standards because it was an "international organisation". New Zealand only has only one vote on the ten-strong body. Ms Kedgley said that "one out of ten ain't good".

This means that advice from officials to the Council is kept secret, when similar advice can be obtained under the OIA.

An October 20 parliamentary question asked Health Minister Annette King whether the New Zealand Government had been approached by Australia to change laws regarding the labelling of genetically engineered food. The Health Minister's answer did not confirm or deny that his had occurred.

"There is a real and alarming possibility that a free trade deal between Australia and the United States could see the Australian government cave into pressure and remove the labelling requirements for GE food. New Zealand would be forced to follow suit under present legislation - regardless of the will of the New Zealand public."

Ms Kedgley will ask questions of the Minister for Food Safety in Parliament today.


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