The first issue to catch my eye this year is the chatter about the proposed changes to NZ food legislation. The NZ Food Bill 160-2 is apparently the largest reform of regulations in food manufacture and selling in 30 years. It seeks to better protect consumers with a new regulatory regime – where penalties for non-compliance are being significantly increased from a maximum fine of $5000 for an individual to up to 2 years imprisonment and a $100,000 fine.
It appears to be massively complex series of reforms and it causing lots of concern and fear amongst a number of businesses who grow or make food for sale at farmers’ markets, food co-ops and roadside fruit and vegetable stalls. It seems the new legislation might add a huge regulatory compliance burden that may make it very hard for these tiny businesses to operate.
The proposed changes have had very little scrutiny by the business community. Those most aware of the potential changes are more likely to be passionate about the environment. The Green Party are really the only political party that have been active in asking for feedback and debate on the issue. There is of course a petition, that to date has more than 37,000 signatures.
I need to do more research on the issue before I can assess whether it’s good or bad for small business in New Zealand – but what I am most concerned with right now, is the lack of quality, easy to understand information that likely affected businesses can review, so they can understand and plan for the likely impact. Kate Wilkinson is the Minister for Food Safety and has recently issued a press release on the topic, which provides some clarity, but it appear to be mainly in response to “scaremongering” by opponents of the bill, rather part of a planned proactive, constructive and business friendly communication programme.
What the small business community needs is certainly and consistency in regulation and every change needs to look closely at the red tape burden that already frustrates small businesses. Information vacuums do more harm than good and local and central government need to keep remembering that small business owners are incredibly time poor and simply don’t have the time to research proposed legislation changes.
A Ministerial press release on 6 January is not an effective way to inform and consult the small business community – we all know it’s a time when hardworking small business owners are typically on holiday with their families getting some well-earned R&R. The information released is useful, but is simply not going to be heard by the vast majority – I encourage more regular and business friendly information and debate on the topic.
A recent editorial by the NZ Herald nicely summarises the issues.
So what do you think about the proposed Food Bill? Is it good or bad for business? What should the Government do to make sure that the needs and voice of small businesses are heard and understood?