Four years after being introduced in the New Zealand Parliament, lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously passed a new food safety law designed to beef up regulatory authority, tighten provisions for product recalls, respond more quickly to outbreaks and better meet consumer and export market demands. “The new Food Act will put in place a risk-based approach, where regulatory requirements are based on the extent and nature of the food safety risks associated with particular kinds of businesses,” Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye said in a statement. She added that enactment of the new law won’t be the end of food safety reform in New Zealand, but that officials would be developing regulations and guidance in consultation with the public. The 470-page law replaces the 1981 Food Act. The proposal went through numerous changes since first being introduced after growers, community garden supporters and others had expressed concerns about the high cost of complying with its regulations. After some changes to its original provisions, the final version of the Act is now projected to save New Zealand’s food industry $40 million in compliance costs each year.
The new Food Act is also a response to recent health scares linked to New Zealand food products, in particular the 2013 one involving Fonterra, in which 38 tons of whey protein used in infant formula, much of it exported overseas, was found to be contaminated with botulism.
The New Zealand-based cooperative (and the world’s largest exporter of dairy products) responded by rounding up the contaminated product within a few days and sending its chairman to China to explain the situation.
The country’s food-safety reputation consequently took a hit as a university survey later showed that Chinese consumers believed New Zealand dairy products to be less safe than those from Europe and the U.S.
Then, in January of this year, Fonterra recalled for E. coli contamination 8,700 bottles of cream distributed on New Zealand’s North Island.
New Zealand has the distinction of being the first country in the world to receive recognition from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as having a comparable level of assurance with the U.S. in their respective food safety systems.