Who is holding the Food Bill gun to our heads?

25/01/2012

By Keith Stewart

The minister responsible for ramming through the Food Bill against widespread public opposition, Kate Wilkinson has been telling porkies about some of the changes to existing legislation that the bill proposes. Wilkinson and her Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officials are claiming that extreme parts of the Bill, such as allowing armed food safety officers and search without warrant, are included in the existing Food Act 1981.

Either they have not read the Act or they are lying.

The Food Act 1981 makes no provision for food safety officers to carry weapons of any sort, leaving this area of enforcement, by exclusion from the Act, to existing law enforcement officers, to wit, the NZ Police.

However, the Food Bill declares;265 (1) A food safety officer may use at a place any equipment the officer has taken into the place if the officer reasonably believes that its use is necessary.

That is an open clause in which the officer, who according to the Bill, can be anybody at all;243 (1) The chief executive may appoint a person as a food safety officer for the purposes of this Act, whether or not the person is employed in the State sector.

Unlike any policeman, customs officer or fisheries officer, a food safety officer does not have to be trained, or operating under a warrant, to be able to take a weapon onto private property.

I think this is very sloppy legislation that facilitates the potential for armed food safety officers, and that such officers may in fact be working on behalf of somebody other than the public service. Indeed, those officers investigating a property deemed to be trading in illegal seeds could be employees of Monsanto or some other foreign company who have no interest in the New Zealand public at all.

And if they break the law during their activities, they are indemnified from prosecution by the Food Bill. This is NOT the case in the 1981 Food Act because food safety officers are not given the freedom to act as they are in the Food Bill.

There is under existing legislation no right to search without a warrant, and the officers are specifically denied entry to private residences without a warrant.

There is also reason to be concerned about the unqualified support for the Food Bill from the Food and Grocery Council of New Zealand. This was declared by the council's CEO, Katherine Rich on TVNZ's Breakfast show this morning. Those concerned about the influence of foreign food corporations on Government's support for the Food Bill should note that the board chairman of the Food and Grocery Council is Coca Cola's George Adams, with representatives from international food corporations, Great Western and Mars on the board.

The Green Party have called for a return to public submissions on the contentious bill. Any politician who argues against this course adds fuel to accusations that the bill in its present form is a tool for facilitating greater corporate control over New Zealand food and consumers. They may just be right.

source: data archive