Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chewing over the Food Bill

Interrupting normal transmission to discuss important legal and political stuff ...

A proposed overhaul to NZ's Food Act (the Food Bill)  has been in the media a bit lately, but I was finding it hard to untangle the facts. After being commissioned to write an article about it, I decided the only thing to do was read the whole darn Food Bill myself.

Okay, yes, I did skim some bits! But others I read thoroughly and repeatedly - especially those that applied to small-scale trading of food within communities. I found things that concerned me.

The article will be out next month [update 30 Oct: It's in the November issue of Taste, and I think it hits stores this week].  In the meantime I've put up a note on Facebook, containing my interpretation of and personal concerns about the Food Bill.

I have strong sympathy with the view that very small-scale home food trades should be treated like gifts - i.e. not covered by central government legislation at all. But unfortunately I don't see this happening, so my focus is on how the way they are covered by the legislation should be altered.

Particularly I think many of these very small-scale trades should be explicitly exempted from having to register a food plan (or having to apply individually for an exemption from registration).

Direct swaps and sales of your home-grown horticultural produce already are explicitly exempted from registration in the Bill. But more processed food like home-made jams, pickles, baking, cheese, etc. do - according to the Bill - require you to register a food plan in order to barter or sell them - even in the tiniest amount. That seems silly and wrong to me.

If you want to read more of my summary and thoughts, they're here on Facebook.


8 comments:

Alessandra said...

Last week I had a talk with a guy from Oxfam who is married to a Green candidate and he told me that he is sure that we will still be able to swap seeds and food and so on... but I don't understand how he can be so sure about it.

Phillipa said...

Beaurcracy is going a tad mad me thinks.AND I reckon the Big Boys are feeling threatened by the home-grown movement , but if we dont have the diversity we will end up with only a few mass produced veges etc.Just look in a supermarket these days and the choice is VERY limited.Heaven help us if we get a nasty food virus that wipes out crops.
Do we really need to regulate the ladies who make jams n pickles for the local charity stall.Sheesh. Mad I say. lol
regards Phillipa

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Alessandra - I am fairly sure they will clarify the wording of the Bill to make sure it doesn't cover seeds. It hasn't been written into the Bill YET, but they have promised that it will be so publicly, I can't see how they could go back on it. (Am I naive?) Waiting to see how exactly they do it though ...

As for food - yes, fruit and veges should be fine I think, going by the wording in the Bill. It's the other stuff I'm worried about. Undoubtedly people will still casually swap home-made food with each other ... but unless some wording changes in the law it seems to me that in theory it will be illegal.

Perhaps authorities will turn a blind eye to it. But, as you say, what if at some point they don't? Cultures change, governments change, economies change, societal expectations change ... and they can change rapidly. What seems like an outrageous thing that would surely never happen now, may seem far more likely down the track.

It's a big mistake to imagine things will always carry on as they are now ...

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Phillipa - I think it's mad too. My article in Taste mag about food swaps is called 'Local Bounty' ... So if the Food Bill passes into law with the relevant wording as it is now, I plan to start a civil disobedience group called 'Mutiny on the Bounty' where regular get-togethers are held around the country to barter and sell home-made food with each other. :o)

peasepudding said...

Welcome to the NZFBA, we have added you to the members page

WS said...

Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice. Some times I wonder if commonsense has been banned in New Zealand. My overseas educated children already call this place "Wonderland". And it's not in the nice sense of the word.

Johanna Knox said...

Hi WS - it does seem crazy. And the whole issue is not helped by all the misinformation that's being put around - mostly unintentionally I think. But even people I contacted who REALLY SHOULD know the ins and outs of the legislation didn't, so how can people on the street be expected to??

Bronwyn said...

As far as I can see from reading the bill (searching it for the word "seed" and reading the context) all references to seeds are under the heading of "foodstuffs" and the bill relates to processing them for eating purposes, or packing them for later eating. I don't think seeds for later planting come under the classification of foodstuffs.