Last week, New Zealand’s Food Safety Law Reform Bill unanimously passed its first reading in Parliament. Somewhat similar to the process of a U.S. bill, which must pass both House and Senate and then be signed by the President, a bill in New Zealand is introduced and undergoes a first reading, then must pass a second reading by a select committee, then a third reading by the committee of the whole house, then receive “royal assent.” Although it is not mandatory, this bill also was put out for public comment. There are a number of similarities between New Zealand’s Food Safety Law Reform Bill and the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) – which is not surprising when one considers that New Zealand’s food safety system was the first to be deemed comparable to that of the U.S. by FDA. Some of the most evident of the similarities are the Reform Bill’s strengthening of “risk-based” requirements, such as that of the written food control plan; its new traceability and recall requirements; and the fact that it was initiated because of a contamination incident. As such, the Bill addresses the recommendations of New Zealand’s independent Government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate Contamination Incident of 2013. Although the Fonterra botulism scare made global headlines and had significant consequences for New Zealand’s reputation as a supplier of safe food, the bacteria were ultimately found not to be a botulism-causing strain. The Inquiry also determined that the incident was not a result of the failure of New Zealand’s food regulatory system, however, improvements were recommended to improve its system and uphold its global reputation. Thus, this Bill addresses the recommendations that need statutory change to implement. Additionally, while the Inquiry focused solely on the dairy sector, the Bill amends all three of the country’s main food safety acts—the Animal Products Act 1999, the Food Act 2014, and the Wine Act 2003 to improve “their alignment, operation, and design so as to better protect human health, and maintain and strengthen New Zealand’s reputation as a supplier of safe and suitable food both domestically and internationally.” Unlike FSMA which has been heralded as the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years, New Zealand’s Reform Bill does not change the fundamental model of its current system, with food businesses responsible for developing and operating under risk-based plans and programs that identify their food safety risks and set out how those risks will be managed. One of the key changes, like that of FSMA, is that New Zealand’s regulators can now “set requirements on the form and manner (including time frames) in which risk-based plans and programmes must be supplied to the regulators,” and that operators must retain and be able to supply copies of their plans and programs to regulators. … Sound suspiciously like FSMA’s requirements for a written food safety plan? Although New Zealand currently requires that a food control plan be in writing, regulation can now be made to require that the plan be differentiated from other information kept by the operator, be based on an official template or model, have validation and evaluation requirements, and be able to presented within a specified timeframe. Because the food control plan is registered, it is the basis under which a facility operates. Thus, noncompliance with the requirements can result in mandatory suspension of its registration, or even cancellation. Additionally, like FSMA’s FSQP, requirements can be set for “the training and competency of persons who operate under food control plans.” In relation to tracing and recall of food, the Bill enables regulations to specify a person who trades in food as a person to whom the regulation applies. And that person must:
• Have in place procedures for tracing and recalling food.
• Conduct simulations or tests of those procedures.
• Implement those procedures to trace and recall food.
Like the similarities of the Preventive Controls rule for animal food and feed to that for human food, New Zealand’s Reform Bill also adds the main enforcement tools in its Food Act 2014 to its Animal Products Act 1999 and Wine Act 2003, in order to standardize compliance methods available across the system. And like FSMA, it increases the authorities and “statutory powers” of the regulators for food safety incidents when there is a serious risk to public health and “aligns provisions for Director-General statements to both inform and protect the public.” On the other hand, the bill also specifically identifies legislative instruments that are not allowed, in line with the Legislation Act 2012. An interesting note included in the General Policy Statement of the bill is that it “helps to modernise and future-proof the food regulatory system by making explicit the ability to use automated electronic systems for service delivery and transactions.” The new law takes effect on the day after the date on which it receives the Royal assent, with some exceptions. About The Acheson Group (TAG) Led by Former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson, TAG is a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience, TAG’s team of food safety experts help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance. www.AchesonGroup.com