1. Is there currently a Food Act in New Zealand?
Yes. It is the Food Act 1981, which covers all food for sale in New Zealand. It is over 30 years old and needs updating.
2. What is the purpose of the Food Bill?
The Food Bill modernises the Food Act 1981. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure food for sale is safe to eat.
3. How does the Food Bill differ from the current Food Act?
The Food Act 1981 takes a one size fits all approach and sets prescriptive rules that have nothing to do with food safety – such as saying which kind of lino must be used. Under the current law any food sold must be made in a commercial kitchen, which means Kiwi traditions such as sausage sizzles and charity cake stalls are illegal.
The Food Bill takes a flexible, risk-based approach to the production of safe food. It is about enabling small traders and giving them tools to manage the risks involved. There are three tools: food handler guidance, a set of tips on how to produce safe food; flexible National Programmes; and Food Control Plans.
4. What does the Food Bill cover?
The Food Bill covers food that is sold. It legalises Kiwi traditions like sausage sizzles and charity cake stalls.
5. What’s not covered in the Food Bill?
The Food Bill does not cover food grown at home or made for personal consumption, any food given away or shared with anyone.
It is an age old Kiwi tradition for people to grow food for themselves, share their excess homemade food with friends or neighbours, or to hold pot luck dinners. The Food Bill will not prevent food being given away or shared with anyone, including food grown at home.
6. What about bartering food?
The current Food Act 1981 includes barter in the definition of sale. The Food Bill does the same. This is aimed at people in business who barter food commercially. Anyone bartering food must ensure the food is safe to eat.
7. What does the Food Bill mean for businesses?
Sale of food is already covered under the Food Act 1981. The Bill sets out three different ways of managing food risks which should be simpler and less costly for many businesses.
- Businesses producing higher risk foods like meat or cheese, or preparing meals, will operate under a Food Control Plan. This requires a written Plan (that you can either write yourself or use a template), annual registration of the plan and an annual check (verification) to make sure the Plan is followed. MPI will consult publicly on the cost of registration and verification checks for businesses operating under national programmes. Many businesses selling higher risk foods already have plans in place under current law.
- Businesses selling medium- to low-risk foods such as brewers/distillers, makers of jam, pickles and bread or commercial growers will come under National Programmes. There are three levels of National Programmes, which are based on risk. They won’t require a written Plan; they will cover the systems a food business needs to have to produce safe food.
All require businesses to register their business details and to cover the cost of a check (verification) to ensure their processes are safe. Checks may be every two years or one-off, depending on risk. MPI will consult publicly on the cost of registration and verification checks for businesses operating under national programmes.
- Low-risk and infrequent charitable activities come under Food Handler Guidance. All that’s required of them is that they continue to sell safe food; they don’t have to register or pay for a check. Free food safety guidance will be available.
- MPI will be able to grant exemptions to a business or sector so that they operate under Food Handler Guidance instead of National Programmes or Food Control Plans. MPI is working to ensure all activities, businesses and sectors are categorised correctly and will consult widely before the Bill becomes law. The exemption process is intended to be a last resort for individuals or businesses in unusual situations.
For more detail about the tools that will apply to your business or charity click on one of the links below:
- Restaurants, manufacturers of baby food and dairy products
- Brewers/distillers, manufacturers of food additives, fruit drink and flour
- Bakeries, manufacturers of jam, chips, confectionary sauces and spreads
- Commercial horticulture sector, manufacturers of frozen fruit and vegetables
- Small-scale operators
- Farmers’ markets
8. What does the Food Bill mean for charitable events?
The Food Bill legalises charitable events such as sausage sizzles and fund-raising cake stalls. It will be a big improvement on current food legislation which requires charities to meet the same requirements as commercial food businesses.
People can sell cakes, jams or other foods for charity or community fundraising activities up to 20 times a year and all they have to do is continue to sell safe food. There is no registration or check. Free food safety guidance will be available from MPI. Fundraising activities are not currently required to register under the Food Act 1981 and this will not change under the Food Bill.
9. Will the Food Bill cover seeds or WWOOFers?
No. The sale or trade of seeds for planting and providing food to Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOFers) was unintentionally captured in the original Bill. The Minister for Food Safety has asked MPI to ensure food producing plants, plant material, seeds and providing food to WWOOFers are not covered. The change will be made in a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) when the Bill is again considered by Parliament.
10. Does it cover food importers?
Yes it strengthens the current law. Food importers will need to register their business details with MPI. Importers that only import food will not have to operate under one of the risk-based measures but they will need to meet certain duties under the Food Bill. Duties include obtaining assurances that the food they import meets New Zealand’s standards and that they can trace it back to the source.
11. What is the role of Food Safety Officers (FSOs)?
The main roles of Food Safety Officers are: to check that businesses are complying with the Food Act; to investigate any situation where food safety may have been compromised; and ensure food is safe and suitable. They may observe the food production process and give advice to the operator.
12. What powers does the Food Bill give to FSOs?
The powers that the Food Bill gives to Food Safety Officers (FSOs) are – in essence – the same as those in the current Food Act 1981 and they have been in use for 30 years without problems. Similar powers are provided to animal welfare officers, biosecurity officers and others.
FSOs are appointed by the Director-General of MPI and there are very clear requirements on the use their powers. FSOs must act in good faith and with reasonable cause. If they don’t, they can be prosecuted or sued.
13. When will the Food Bill become law?
The Food Bill was introduced to Parliament on 26 May 2010. It has been considered by the Primary Production Select Committee and is now waiting to proceed through the House. There are several steps in the process before the bill becomes law – the second reading, the committee of the whole house and the third reading. When the Bill becomes law there will be approximately 18 months before it comes into force and after that a transition period for food businesses.
The Food Bill, parliamentary debates, official advice and public submissions received by the Primary Production Select Committee, as well as the final committee report are available on the New Zealand Parliament website: Legislation - Bills - Food Bill (External website)
14. Has there been consultation on the Food Bill?
Yes. Consultation on the Food Bill has been extensive. It began in 2004 with a series of public discussion papers on the Domestic Food Review. The Review led to the Food Bill. Other consultation has included:
- Public consultation from 2004-2010 on proposals for the Food Bill. This consultation included the release of discussion papers – each time with a request for public submissions. During this time we held many meetings with representatives from consumer groups, public health units and territorial authorities.
- The Primary Production Committee consulted publicly on the Food Bill from 22 July to 2 September 2010. The 66 submissions that were received can be viewed on Parliament’s website. Legislation - Bills - Food Bill (External website)
An overview of the Domestic Food Review and the Food Bill information is available here:
Overview - Reform of New Zealand food regulations
Overview - Reform of New Zealand food regulations
15. Is the Food Bill about meeting obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement and obeying the Codex Alimentarius?
No. The Food Bill is the result of our own Domestic Food Review. The Bill is not copied from or influenced by the legislation of any other country. It has been written in New Zealand for all food sold and made in New Zealand, whether it is for the domestic or export market.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission, or Codex, is an international ’best practice’ guide for food standards run jointly by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization that ensures standards are based on the most up-to-date science. New Zealand experts contribute to the work of Codex and have led work on hygiene standards for campylobacter and salmonella and meat hygiene guidelines.
Codex Alimentarius: International food standards (External website)
Some 185 countries belong to Codex, including New Zealand. New Zealand is not bound by recommendations from Codex; it is a sovereign state, free to develop its own domestic food safety policies.
16. How can I keep up to date with the progress of the Food Bill?
There are three ways you can keep up to date with what is happening with the Food Bill, and you choose the methods that work best for you:
What's new: Click on What's new in the left-hand menu to read the most recent updates to the Policy and law.
Get emails: Sign-up to receive the latest MPI food safety news by clicking on the Get emails link in the right-hand panel or at the bottom of any page to sign-up for email notifications.
Subscribe to news feeds: Sign up by clicking on the Subscribe to feeds link at the bottom of any page to add to your list of news feeds.