New Zealand has a first-class regulatory regime for food safety.
This is the underlying conclusion of the first stage of the
Government's Inquiry into Fonterra's Whey Protein
The Inquiry was set up almost immediately after Fonterra's
food safety scare, when Fonterra advised the government early
August 2013 that infant formula and possibly other products were
suspected as being infected with botulism-causing Clostridium
botulinum. As is well known, subsequent tests showed that the whey
protein concentrate, which was the source of the suspected
contamination, did not contain the dangerous bacteria. Considerable
damage, however, was done in the meantime.
The first stage of the Inquiry reviewed New Zealand's legal
and best practice good safety requirements. The Inquiry is also
required to consider the causes of the incident and how it was
addressed at the time, but has placed that work on hold until the
Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) completes its
compliance investigation into the incident. Despite this, the
Inquiry carried out come preliminary investigation, concluding that
the incident was not caused by a failure or crises in the
regulatory system, and that the causes lay elsewhere.
The Inquiry found that New Zealand's regulatory system is
considered one of the best in the world, having achieved systems
recognition with the United States and the European Union. The key
features of the New Zealand regime are the use of risk management
programmes and a good balance of outcome-based and prescriptive
Of course, there are always improvements that can be made, and
the Inquiry recommended a number of changes to the food safety
system. Many of the changes are unrelated to the incident and are
mostly aimed at future-proofing the regulatory system.
Significant recommendations from a legal perspective were:
MPI should accelerate the standards integration programme.
The requirements for risk management programmes should be
elevated to regulations, along with notification and reporting
A Food Safety and Assurance Advisory Council should be
The independent verifier's role should be clarified to make
clear the true client is the regulator not the industry.
The compliance and enforcement tools in the Animal Products Act
1999 should be widened and aligned with those in the Food
Mandatory recall provisions in food legislation should be
While these will be important changes for the dairy sector and
the food industry generally, they are also good points to bear in
mind in the design of regulatory regimes generally.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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