Sunday, December 21, 2014

New Zealand's Food Safety Regulations Are Not Just About Food Safety, But Also International Trade & Politics

New Zealand's food safety regulations are not simply about food safety. It's also about international trade & politics.

Once I understood that, the regulations & procedures around dairy products begins to make sense to me.

I'm going to be quite charitable to the regulators in this post.

Biddys Story

Last night Seven Sharp did a follow up story on Biddy and her micro cheese making business. You can view the 7 minute video here.

Biddys story is, she milks 3 cows and makes the milk into cheese. She has won international awards etc etc. 5 years ago she was featured on Country Calendar. This alerted the authorities to her small operation and she was required to meet the dairy regulations.

Biddys story has popped up in the media on and off for the last five years. The current situation is she makes $33,000 per year from her cheese and she is required to have her risk management programme audited every year, which cost $4,500.

my last blog postI outlined the reason it costs $4,500 to get a verifier to audit her every year. Basically there are only 2 companies in New Zealand who conduct these auditing services and there is not enough auditors. So people like Biddy and my self have to pay for the airfares & rental cars to get an auditor to visit. We also have to pay them $90/hour while they are travelling & well over $130/hour while they are on site or writing their report.

So Biddys getting away quite lightly at only $4,500!

Regulations are set to protect our international trade

After hearing a story like Biddys, the general response goes something like this "This is ridiculous, a little old lady with three cows has to go through all the same paperwork and inspections that a big processor does. Why doesn't the local council food inspectors do the inspections?" 

This sounds logical, after all if you wanted to bake apple pies & sell them. You can set up in your garage and the council inspector can sign off your premises. 

But New Zealand doesn't make its money from apple pies, it makes it's money from milk.

Our overseas markets are quite happy to find a reason to stop our dairy exports. One example is Fonterra's DCD scandal. Sri Lanka were quick to blacklist Fonterra products & Chinese officials were all over MPI looking for a detailed risk assessment. 

We can find other food safety scares that have affected New Zealand dairy producers. There was Fonterra's clostridium botulinum scandal and before that they had the melamine infant formulas scandal too.  

All three of these scandals cost NZ producers greatly.

But hang on a minute, these "cock ups" were by Fonterra, New Zealands largest producer not the Biddy's of the world.

I can't actually find an example of a small scale producer causing the NZ dairy industry to suffer.

Either way, officials from the European Union, China & the US etc scrutinise our food safety systems and look for areas of weakness or potential weakness. Often its not food safety at the forefront of their mind, but rather international trade as their focus. 

It would appear that, they use our system as a type of tariff or at least a way to leverage more bargaining power.

So poor old MPI has to juggle the political & trade requirements while also trying to make the system simple for Biddy and I.

As a result, our trading partners demand a robust system with checks and balances. The problem is those checks and balances cost money.

In my last post, I proposed that we should get rid of the private verifiers and make verification the role of MPI. The problem with that scenario is MPI then set the standards, evaluates businesses risk management programmes and also conducts the auditing of those businesses.

It could be argued that this system would lack any independent checks.

Who knows what goes on in the Wellington office of MPI. We don't know what the Chinese or the europeans demand of them.

But what I do know, is that whenever I talk to anybody from Eurofins, AsureQuality or MPI the conversion very quickly turns away from the practical hygiene issues and onto the requirements of the a certain standard or regulation. 

It's these regulations that have been audited by our trading partners & found to be acceptable. 

MPI are worried that if, a small producer stuffs up & causes a food safety breach, the risk is that the standards & regulations that make up our food safety system may look to have failed. Therefore opening us up for more scrutiny from other countries who may be looking for any reason to halt our exports.

Much of the battle I am having with the Ministry for Primary Industries is not about actual food safety, but more about everybody covering their backs. 

More on that later


  1. Hi - thanks for you blog - i found it a month or so ago and it is good reading. I am interested in one day setting up something like you are doing. like you i have some experience with dairy and farming. how are you getting along with selling your milk? as i understand you now have a milking shed, processing plant, herd of cows in milk, market, but are unable to yet sell your milk?
    another question - your pasteurizer - could you please provide some details on this?

  2. Hi Bert
    Just watch this space, I'll be providing details. Just a bit busy at moment to respond to all the individual questions.

  3. You’ve made some good points there. It’s a good idea! Please visit

  4. Your long hours of work could result in the breakthrough thousands of small dairy producers need. Let's hope some common sense (and not politics) prevails.