Single Food Agency By Mid 1999

  • John Luxton
Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control

Greater consumer confidence in food safety is among the Government's aims in creating a single food agency by the middle of next year, Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control Minister John Luxton and Health Minister Bill English announced today.

Creating a single agency is not, however, and end in itself.

The proposed agency, based in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, will be tasked with integrating food administration and regulation, protecting public health, and facilitating ease of access to markets for food products, the Ministers said. It will come into being on 1 July.

"Currently there is no single agency focus on food safety. Officials from the Ministry of Health, MAF and local authorities all have regulatory responsibilities, making it difficult to know who does what. This causes overlaps and confusion for consumers about who to approach.*

"It also creates a confusing regulatory environment, and makes it difficult for industry to meet its regulatory requirements. Food for domestic supply and food for export is regulated differently, enforced differently and costed for compliance differently.*

"The best solution is to combine responsibility for food safety in the domestic food supply (Health) and in the export food supply (MAF) in one agency located in MAF."

The Ministers said basing a single food agency based within MAF made good sense because:

Food administration is already one of MAF's core businesses MAF certification of food quality for export is world recognised and can continue to be used if the food agency is within MAF MAF has significantly more staff in head office and regulatory officers in the field involved in food administration ( approximately 100 in head office alone) than does Health. It would result in less disruption to both Ministries and to regulatory staff and can be achieved at low cost.
Shifting food administration work done by the Ministry of Health to MAF would affect around a dozen Health head office staff, who will move to MAF. This will require some internal reorganisation within MAF, but no redundancies or job losses are expected.
"The single food agency will continue to use existing field regulatory services provided by territorial authorities, hospital-based public health services and MAF."

"The importance of having a single agency, with a sole focus on food safety administration, is demonstrated by the high numbers of food borne illness each year -over 10,000 cases each year," the Ministers said.

Whilst regulation and responsibility for food safety in products and premises, including the control and prevention of factors causing

food-borne illness, would move to MAF, wider responsibility for surveillance and investigation of communicable disease generally, including food-borne illness cases in humans, would remain with Health. Health thus retains this important role in protecting the public health.

A close working relationship between the proposed MAF food agency and the Ministry of Health will be necessary to ensure co-operation, (delete 'and')fast appropriate action and that the MAF agency has a strong public health perspective. Close collaboration will also need to occur between regulatory officers associated with the single food agency and public health regulatory officers in the field.

The Ministers said the single agency was part of a package of structural, legislative and administrative changes designed to enhance food safety. Over time, it is also intended to align major legislation regulating food, possibly in one Act. Currently there are barriers for industry groups to implement effective food safety programmes because of overly complex legislative requirements.

The proposed changes are unlikely to result in significant changes in compliance costs for industry initially. In fact, longer term, it is estimated that up to half a million dollars a year will be cut from industry compliance costs.

"That is an important consideration for an integral portion of the economy which constitutes half the country's exports and is valued at $9.7 billion", the Ministers said.

A consultation round late last year and August 1998 showed support for a single agency responsible for food administration.

For more information contact:

Liz Rowe, (Bill English's office), 04 4719154, 04 3835491
Conor English, (John Luxton's office) 04 4719707

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The Food and Beverage Exporters Council estimates the annual costs of compliance with current law and multiple administration is $97-297m (approx. 1-3% of turnover given export value of food and beverage is $9.7 billion).

The Ministry of Health and MAF believe that in the short term there is unlikely to be any change to compliance costs, but longer term the package of changes proposed will result in a saving to industry of up to half a million dollars per year (0.2% reduction in compliance costs).

Current staffing in food administration and regulation - MAF: 100 in head office; Health: 20 in head office including nutrition and disease control. The changes mean some internal reorganisation within MAF and the transfer of around a dozen staff in Health to the single food agency.

Food safety - ensuring that the food supply is safe through regulation of food production and composition - is an important public health issue in New Zealand. In October 1998, 912 cases of campylobacteriosis and 182 cases of salmonellosis were notified. Total cases for the ten months ending 31 October 1998 are 8991 and 1772 respectively compared with 6905 and 998 cases for these diseases at the same time last year.