Capitalising on Food Safety

  • John Luxton
Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control

New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology Symposium

The Plaza International, Wellington 1 July 1999 (check against delivery)

Ladies and gentleman. It is a pleasure to open your 1999 Symposium, "Capitalising on Food Safety".

As well as being one of our most exciting and innovative industries, the New Zealand economy is heavily dependent on our trade in food.

* Around 65,000 farms produce foodstuffs. * More than 35,000 businesses - from the small takeaway bar on the corner to huge export meat companies - are licensed to prepare and sell food products. * Food and beverage accounts for more than 50% of our export earnings.

Our domestic consumers; consumers in our export markets and their Governments and our ever increasing number of tourists, have every right to expect that New Zealand produced food is safe. Making sure this happens is a joint responsibility for Government and for your food industry.

As your draft programme noted, I had planned to speak today about the new Food Assurance Authority.

The democratic process being what it is, the law change proposed to give effect to the current proposal was not supported at the Select Committee stage. A number of issues have been raised through the Select Committee process which the Government wants further work to be done on. Ministers are continuing to look into how best to progress the issue of a Food Assurance Authority and further policy work is being carried out.

The idea of a single food agency was broadly supported. I am hopeful we will still be able to implement this in due course, as an important first step in reducing the duplication of government intervention in food regulation that has been a major problem, and compliance cost, with the present system.

I intend to outline what we are planning to achieve by the creation of a single food agency.

As food scientists and technologists, your role is increasingly important. Not only are your professional skills needed to ensure food is safe and meets consumer expectations, but it will be your innovative ideas that will move the New Zealand trade in food from one based largely on commodities to one based on high value consumer demanded manufactured products. I would like to touch on this as well.

Food Safety

Recent lessons from events such as the United Kingdom's BSE problems and the Belgian dioxin contamination scare, show us only too clearly how vulnerable food producing countries are to lapses in food safety.

Consumers (and sometimes the regulators who act on their behalf) respond dramatically to fears - whether real or perceived - about the safety of foodstuffs. Events have a high profile and it can take many years before trust and confidence in both the products (and sometimes the regulators) can be restored.

Sometimes problems with one product result in reactions to all products from a country.

Our reputation as a producer of good quality food, can be damaged irreparably by a single event.

In avoiding such situations, Government has a legitimate role to play in:

-protecting consumer health and safety; -preventing fraud and deception; and -facilitating trade.

Our regulatory framework is designed to meet these demands. The "New Zealand Inc" food brand, currently enjoys an enviable worldwide reputation. We must protect it.

But I think that all at this Symposium would agree, that the first responsibility for ensuring that food is safe, rests with the industries producing and manufacturing it. They have a role in implementing stand