For everyone who went through the controversies surrounding passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act in the United States, what is happening now in New Zealand is going to sound very familiar.

New Zealand has introduced a food safety bill updating the nation’s Food Act of 1981. The food safety reforms have broad-based support, including from such backers as Robert Bradley and Murray Burns, who own the country’s largest and oldest produce market.

Just as occurred in the U.S., however, opposition from small producers and operators of roadside and farmer’s markets has bubbled up in New Zealand.  It has included a petition drive that claims to have gathered 30,000 signatures, and an anonymously sponsored website that includes what the government says is misinformation about the food safety bill.

All of which led NZ’s Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson this week to push back on what she says is an organized campaign of scaremongering.  “Most of what they claim is untrue and causing many people unnecessary concern,” she said.

Among the claims being made against the NZ food safety bill are:

– People would be prohibited from growing their own food and trading it with their neighbors.

– Registration would be required to provide homemade food for charitable and community events.

– Food safety officers will be empowered to conduct armed raids without warrants and with full immunity from prosecution.

Wilkinson wants New Zealanders who are concerned about the bill to read the draft and suggest changes. She says both the Labour and Green Parties have food safely spokesmen people can speak with.

Some “misunderstanding” about the NZ food safety bill may be based on language that is in the proposal. For example, food safety officers would get limited civil and criminal immunity when operating in good faith in the exercise of their duties. This is similar to existing NZ law in other areas, including animals, biosecurity and commerce.

The NZ food safety bill has cross-party support and has passed the Parliament’s gate-keeping Primary Production Select Committee after its full consultation process.

New Zealand, with a population of just under five million, suffered  losses of $162 million in 2010 due to foodborne illnesses.