Minister enters food stall bun fight
A potential food-stall extinction at country markets has seen Food Safety Minister Damien O’Connor step in to the bun fight.
It comes after smalltime stallholders on the Ka¯piti Coast north of Wellington got a taste of new national food safety rules that could kill their business.
Changes to the 2014 Food Act will kick in for all food stall operators in March - and council informational visits to markets on the coast north of Wellington left stallholders stunned.
Some discovered they could face costs for food safety regulation that would entirely soak up their profit.
Whether they face the fees could hang on where their chamomile or cucumbers came from.
A herbal tea seller, who did not wish to be named, said she was approached by staff at markets and discovered her store-bought ginger might force her to pay a licence and food safety check bill.
Stalls that sold only produce they grew themselves could be exempt from the changes.
Bake stallholder Sharon Hurst said she discovered, as a nonfundraising stallholder, she would likely pay $900 in the first year to Ka¯ piti Coast District Council for licensing and food safety verification, and $750 annually after that.
It would stop her baking stall ‘‘dead’’, she said, and she slammed the charges as ‘‘revenue gathering’’.
"Officials at MPI are coming up with some ideas as to how we can ... establish [a regime] that is more focused and more suited for lower volume food producers."
Food Safety Minister Damien O'Connor
This week she attended a council information session and discovered she would have a high bar to gain food safety verification.
‘‘My document, for my 25 hours of selling cakes a year, is the same as a supermarket,’’ she said.
It included ‘‘ridiculous’’ requirements like having to measure and record the temperature of all her chilled goods.
‘‘So when I go to Countdown to get my butter do I have to measure the temperature of my two packets per month?’’
Hurst said she hoped O’Connor would bring fresh eyes to the problem and put a brake on the changes. ‘‘It’s going too far, it really is.’’
O’Connor said he had discussed the issue with Ministry for Primary Industries staff about ensuring ‘‘a lower cost regime’’ for stallholders.
‘‘Officials at MPI are coming up with some ideas as to how we can, if not run a different regime, certainly establish one that is more focused and more suited for lower volume food producers.’’
Rather than changing the law, O’Connor said he hoped there was enough flexibility within the Act to reduce costs.
‘‘I hope that we’ll be able to give clear indication to those stallholders within a month that there will be change, and hopefully there will be positive change.’’
Previously the council defended its approach, saying it was obliged to enforce government rules, and the verification charge up to $600 was fair and similar to those across the region.
Yesterday, Ka¯piti mayor K Gurunathan said it was very useful for the minister to have stepped in.
‘‘I find it really refreshing that the minister has taken a personal interest in this area, rather than just leaving it to the bureaucrats, no matter how well-meaning they are.’’
He said the markets were a good testing ground for starting businesses, and migrant communities often started to interact with the mainstream community through the markets.
MPI director Peter Thomson has previously said that law aimed at a consistent system for food safety, and that the requirement that food ‘‘does not make people sick, and be what it says it is’’ covered all food for sale.