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New food legislation will mean costly and time-consuming hurdles for New Zealand’s $18 billion food and beverage export sector, according to the NZ Herald.

According to the report citing the Food & Grocery Council, the country’s Food Bill – which aims to overhaul the 30-year-old Food Act and has already passed its first reading in Parliament – would require all edible exports to comply with New Zealand laws on manufacturing and labelling.

That would leave some locally made products non-compliant in overseas markets because of differing standards, says the council, which represents food manufacturers.

Katherine Rich, chief executive of the group, was quoted saying beer labelled to New Zealand requirements could not be exported to Britain as the two countries had differing views on what constituted a “standard drink”.

She said although New Zealand has a very good regulatory system not every country in the world agrees.

Rich said food exporters would be able to apply for exemption to export products that did not meet New Zealand requirements. Companies could, however, face big delays.

She said it could take six months to a year for a company currently without an exemption for its product to meet an export order.

But a spokesman for Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson said regulations in the bill were meant to remove the need for case-by-case exemption applications as much as possible.

Simpson Grierson partner Peter Stubbs said on the law firm’s website last week the bill would have “severe and far-reaching consequences for food manufacturers, exporters and the wider food industry in general”.

Stubbs said that under the current Food Act, the maximum fine for non-compliance was $5000 for an individual and $20,000 for a firm.

The bill proposes that maximum fines be lifted to $100,000 for individuals and $500,000 for companies.

“The problem with fines this big is that … in a country largely made up of small- to medium-sized enterprises, the level of these fines will most likely be destructive rather than punitive.”

Wilkinson’s spokesman said the Government intended to pass the bill this year.

Food and beverage exports earned $17.6 billion in 2009. – Story by NZ Herald

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