The New Zealand Law Society supports the goal of improving the legislation underpinning New Zealand's food safety system, but says a bill currently before Parliament will need some changes to achieve this.
The Food Safety Law Reform Bill implements changes to New Zealand's food safety Acts.The Law Society says the use of delegated legislation (regulations and notices) under the current food safety Acts is inconsistent and unclear, and the Law Society agrees reform is needed.
"However the bill does not provide the clarity and coherence that the legislative framework needs," says Law Society spokesperson Tim Stephens.
The bill puts in place changes following the Fonterra dairy contamination incident in 2013. An independent government inquiry found that incident was not a result of failure in New Zealand's food regulatory system but recommended some improvements including changes to the three main Acts governing food safety – the Animal Products Act 1999, the Wine Act 2003 and the Food Act 2014.
The bill provides regulations to set traceability and recall requirements that are essential to food safety and maintenance of New Zealand's trading reputation. It allows the chief executive of the Ministry for Primary Industries to issue notices dealing with a range of food-safety matters, but does not make it clear when it is appropriate for notices, rather than regulations, to be used.
Mr Stephens says notices are subject to far less scrutiny than regulations, which are subject to well-established constitutional checks to ensure their clarity and legitimacy.
"Notices are delegated legislation but are subject to few constitutional safeguards and should only be used where necessary and unavoidable. It is not clear that the notices proposed in the bill meet this test.
"It is particularly concerning that in some cases, notices are intended to be used to "supplement" regulations made under the food safety Acts," he says.
The Law Society says that each provision in the bill authorising the use of notices for law-making needs to be clearly justified. The Law Society has also recommended a comprehensive review of the use of notices in all the food safety statutes.