New Food Act is tough on firms

On 1 March 2016, the new Food Act 2014 came into force.  All new food businesses established after this date must follow the new rules. Existing businesses will be given time to change over to the new rules during a three year transition period (between 1 March 2016 and 28 February 2019). 

The new rules are designed to recognise that each food business is different and is meant to step away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach to food safety that existed previously. 

However, has this reform gone too far by imposing overly burdensome compliance costs for some of our smaller food suppliers, such as market stall vendors?

The Food Act recognises that food suppliers such as market stall vendors are lower risk but they are nevertheless required to operate under a National Programme tier (either at level 1, 2, or 3, depending on the type of food they sell, and the associated risk). 

So what do these businesses have to do to comply? 

Firstly, growers who sell their own fruit and vegetables at market stalls, and fundraising stalls (such as those at school fairs) are exempted and do not have to comply.  However, other stall holders such as those selling fruit drinks, jams or pickles, or baked food, such as cakes and biscuits, will be required to comply with the applicable National Programme. 

Compliance with the National Programme tiers requires registration with the local Council and, at least, an initial audit of processes to ensure that they are safe, with the requirement to have follow up checks every two to three years) 

Compliance with a National Programme will require meeting prescribed standards covering everything from cleaning and waste management and disposal, to equipment standards and hygiene.  While food safety is important, registration, and ongoing verification comes at a cost that is prohibitive to most small scale and hobby level sellers.  A balance must be struck.

Many producers in the dairy, horticulture and agriculture industries are looking to diversify and look for new ways to supplement their business income.  This might be by selling their produce on a smaller scale to local markets, and is to be encouraged. 

However food safety regulation for these fledging business is another level of compliance that these business are having to tackle along with other compliance issues. 

For some of these business, the cost of compliance is prohibitive, and the benefits to the local economy that flow from supplying and supporting local produce are then compromised.

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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Philip McCarthy