There’s a fuss brewing amongst self-sufficient types in New Zealand at the moment, because of the Kiwi government’s attempts to pass a new Food Bill. The Bill is prompted by the government’s obligations under the World Trade Organisation’s ‘Codex Alimentarius’ scheme, but detractors have been quick to imply the dread hand of Monsanto and other global agribusiness giants.
On the face of it, the Food Bill is intended to improve New Zealand’s food security, but the way that the bill has been drafted has sent waves of alarm through the Kiwi public. At the very least, it’s sloppy: or, if you prefer, the government is doing just what global agribusiness is telling them to do. Unless heavily amended, it has serious implications for seed banks, farmers’ markets, WWOOFers, food co-ops, market gardens… the list goes on. On an individual level, the growing and distribution of food will become a regulated activity, requiring an official permit – and here, the definition of ‘food’ is astonishingly broad.
Trade growers’ associations are seriously opposed too, as the proposed legislation would add a new and expensive layer of regulation to their activities and completely ignore the existing schemes. Besides, for some sections of the industry saving seeds at times of market shortage is common practice. The new bill would make a permit application necessary in order to do this – and that, quite rightly, rings alarm bells.
Opposition to the Bill began rather late, as it took time for the public to realise what was about to happen. This prompted Green MP Sue Kedgley to complain online that objections should have been raised when the Bill was at its submission stage. Online critics Foodsecurity.org responded that this was “sanctimonious treatment of NZers who are too tired to be eternally vigilant” – and to my mind, they have a point: if a government starts work on such a far-reaching piece of law without adequate publicity, it can expect opposition to come late and come loud. There’s simply no other way it can happen – as the British government found out to its cost with the recent Forestry Commission debacle.
You can read more about the NZ food bill at foodsecurity.org, and there is an online petition to stop the bill at petitiononline.co.nz.