An end to Seed Exchanges?

I have had many queries about the Food Bill, with some suggesting it is a ghastly plot to make seed saving and seed exchange programmes illegal, and even activities such as the Willing Workers on Organic Farm systems (WWOOFing).

These concerns, unfortunately, were never raised during the submission stage of the bill, when they can be examined in depth. Nor were any submissions sent in from any food groups raising these concerns.

The best way to raise concerns such as these about legislation before Parliament is through the submission process, not afterwards when the bill has been through select committee.

Since the hearings on the bill had been completed before anyone raised these concerns, the only way to inquire about them was to write directly to the Minister for Food Safety.

After taking some time to examine the issues, the Minister has confirmed that it was never the intention of the bill to cover seed saving, the barter or selling of food seeds or seedlings, or the provision of food and accommodation in exchange for labour.

She has confirmed that she will be amending the bill to make it explicit that it wont include seed or food exchanges, or related issues.

Here is the letter that Kate Wilkinson sent to me [PDF].

21 thoughts on “An end to Seed Exchanges?

  1. Good onya Sue.
    Any attempts to control the food supply, needs to be condemned at every opportunity. As a person who enjoys growing a veg garden, I don’t think I should have to be told that my access to seeds is being controlled by Company X ONLY… that may well be GE contaminated ?
    Kia-ora

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  2. Thanks for looking into this, Sue. I’ve seen comments by some needlessly concerned people lately and it’s great to have it put to bed.

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  3. Yes, fast, accurate follow-up – I’ve printed the minister’s letter for local people concerned about this. Thanks for doing this.

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  4. You and all of NZ should just stop eating food Sue.
    It is quite simple to realise that food is just plain bad for humans

    [frog: I let this comment through from moderation only to demonstrate how inane the argument for corporate control of food is.]

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  5. @Rimu, people are not “needlessly” concerned about this issue and it is definitely not “put to bed”, as you say.

    @Sue,
    Agreed, the correct time is at the submissions stage, but when a bill is 368 pages long can you understand that most people, especially those flogging their guts all hours to run a family-sized horticultural business simply do not have the time or legal expertise to plough through this volume of material, whereas a large enterprise will have a corporate lawyer or a trade association to carry this burden.

    Is it any wonder when the stated aim of the Food Bill 2010 is to “align New Zealand safety law with the requirements of the WTO and Codex Alimentarius” that many people do smell a “ghastly plot”? It is a view held by small producers and aware consumers that these unelected supra-national organizations exist for the purpose of advantaging the owners of large scale capital over the citizens of sovereign nations and to deliberately undermine national self-reliance for the purpose of achieving penetration of that capital, and that issues such as food safety regulation and free trade are the tools of their ugly trade.

    Is it not a fact that it is because production is often taking place thousands of miles away by people who have no reason to care about the wellbeing of the ultimate consumer that we need such intrusive regulation? Believe me, for the corporate sector we do need it! We’ve all heard stories of workers who won’t consume the products of their own factories “‘coz I know what’s in it!”

    We had a foretaste of things to come in the “Animal Products (Raw Milk Products Specifications) Notice 2009″ where, as a result of a WTO judgement against the USA requiring that French raw milk cheeses be permitted entry into the US. New Zealand had no option but to “un-ban” the same cheeses, and as a consequence drew up regulations to permit the manufacture of similiar products within New Zealand. However, the requirements are so onerous, I doubt whether a single kilo of compliant raw milk cheese has been made or ever will be.
    This same approach is being taken with the question of exemption from the requirement to operate under a registered food control plan or national programme. Take a look at this;

    95(5) Without limiting anything in this section, a person who may be granted an exemption under this section includes someone who—
    (a) produces in his or her own home any food for sale; and
    (b) sells the food to a consumer only; and
    (c) does not employ or engage any other person to assist in the production or sale of the food; and
    (d) does not otherwise sell or distribute the food.

    This is designed to look like there is a provision that small operators, lifestyle block farmers if you like, the sort of people that turn up on your local farmers market and sell a few hundred dollars worth of fruits or veges, will be exempted. It means nothing of the sort. What it in fact means is that a person seeking exemption may not work with his / her wife, husband, partner, children or houseguests (this is the bit that undermines the Wwoofing scheme). It means that to qualify you have to be a hermit! Whether this is the result of the policy writers illiteracy or deliberate political obfuscation is anybodys guess.

    Check this out;

    (a) produces in his or her own home and the demesne thereof, any food for sale; and
    (b) sells the food to a consumer only; and
    (c) does not employ or engage any person not presently within his or her own household to assist in the production or sale of the food; and
    (d) does not otherwise sell or distribute the food.
    There, isn’t that better?

    But wait… Note the use of the words “might” and “may” instead of “shall” and “will”. In legalese, these mean that any exemption is entirely at the discretion of the minister and thus despite all the fine words above, the position described “might” never even come into being, and if it does, could be revoked at any time. So, yet again, we see, instead of clarity about what this law will and won’t allow us to do, we see the permission of arbitrary executive power.

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  6. I get the impression that the Bill was snuck
    through,
    with minimal, if any publicity. Was
    that intentional, perhaps?

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  7. Simon, I agree. An unopposed bill will never gain the publicity needed for people to grasp that there are changes afoot that require their input via lobbying and the submissions process. There is far too much concensus in parliament- the function of the opposition should to oppose wherever possible, that is the only way to make sure that the content of bills is thoroughly examined. Nats and Labour with their corporate and statist agendas respectively will always tend to leave the ordinary folk, both as consumer and small producer, unrepresented. Greens could be part of a politics of the “third way” but they need to stop buying into the conventions of the way the game is presently played- horse trading behind the scenes, anticipation of future alliances and so-forth.

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  8. Someone, please let me know where the Bill is at right now? Has it had its second hearing? I have emailed a few party mps but no reply so far.

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  9. Sue,

    With all respect, people vote green so YOU act to safeguard against exactly this type of legislation. I’m equally surprised the various groups like gefree haven’t picked this up at the earlier stages. Should they be activated now to apply further pressure? this is still no trivial matter. Some people are extremely annoyed as per http://nzfoodsecurity.org

    The ministerial response is twisting and minimising the issue to placate,while opportunistically switching from act to act. I would expect any ‘changes’ to stick as closely to the clear original intent of removing all food rights, as the minister can get away with.

    I urge you to examine any changes very carefully and involve legal counsel. I would prefer an amendment that positively affirms the right to barter and direct to consumer trade, rather than trusting on the complex defense the minister suggests.

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  10. I agree totally with commentator “voter” above, and would like to pursue his line more thoroughly. Unfortunately the owner of the web-page NZfoodsecurity.org seems to have killed debate there stone-dead with his arcane references to “freeman on the land” concepts and Maori customary law, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

    Please go to the latest statement from the NZFSA issued a few days ago on 31st August and read through it carefully.

    Note the language. In para. 3 it talks of “focus”,probably to deliberately avoid the use of the word “intent”. Now be aware that, as “Lance McC” says in the “comments via facebook” above, the concept of intent has no meaning in the interpretation of an act of parliament. What counts is the literal interpretation of the language used- this paragraph is pure fluff designed to placate those questioning the bill.

    Para. 5. what is this? “…the recommendation was made….” Nowhere does it say that the recommendation has been actioned, or that the minister has agreed to action it. “…there is the ability in the Food Bill to exempt certain activities…” yes but this is pie-in-the-sky. “Stop complaining and we’ll fix it later after the Bill is passed”- Yeah right!

    I disagree that the bill will allow bartering. The bill defines sale as “exchange for valuable consideration” and this is exactly what bartering is. A “gentlemans agreement not to pursue” is not good enough. Who could possibly imagine that Grandad won’t be allowed to to sell a few lettuce or leek plants at the garden gate, or that the oft-seen roadside stall with a few cartons of eggs and fruit and veg in season will become a thing of the past. This Bill is designed to bring an end to all this neighbourhood vitality and tradition and for what? the imaginary threat of food poisoning- I’m sorry but we all know that that is an issue in the cost-cutting corporate sector but don’t pretend to me that it’s even an issue for home gardeners or small producers that deal personally with their customers.

    Heavy duty compliance regimes are only required where mass-production and long supply chains create risks that don’t exist in local markets. “one size fits all” compliance regimes are simply a commercial strategy to favour the corporate sector and a job creation / career enhancement scheme for the public and private sector compliance industry.

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  11. The Food Bill covers significant food safety issues and sets out a system to control risk of food borne illness. In theory just fine, but the broad brush approach in matching international standards went too far and would have totally advantaged the mega-corporates that want as much control over our kai as possible. That some of the clauses got through the first reading was unfortunate. However this bill was one of many large bills and food safety, environmental and social issues that MPs and NGOs were grappling with that big business and NationalAct were pushing along and cannot always be screened as well as we want. Kevin, you are absolutely correct that the heavy duty compliance regimes are only required where mass production and long supply chains… However I suggest you might be stretching it a lot to be continuing to suggest that roadside stalls are to be a thing of the past, especially now that the Minister has acknowledged the oversights around barter, the neighbours fence and local level trade. The NZFSA statement is a stopgap I think and until we see the Supplementary Order papers, then interpretation is speculative. The Ministers letters to Organic NZ and Sue Kedgley are quite clear about where the officials are expected to set boundaries. Food safety techniques are to be made available for communities as ‘tips’, but the ‘required’ food safety plans that carry the restrictive controls are for the longer supply chain food processing, that begins to lose direct tracebility, and has implications for many more people if a food borne illness occurs or something goes wrong. There is a clear differentiation between the levels of food supply and legislative control. I fought for a similar variance when small scale free range egg production was to be controlled out of local sale some time back, and we managed to get direct sales to consumers to be continued without food management plans at the local market level for people with a flock of 99 hens or less, but sales to retailers (that beginning of separation between farmer/producer and consumer)requires compliance with a food plan. I think that was still too severe, but the size of operation or supply chain as the threshold of traceability when something goes wrong is the point where higher food safety requirements are deemed necessary. So farmers markets or roadside stalls or over the fence where the food movement is effectively face to face will continue without the food plans, then any step up is a controlled activity requiring compliance. That of course will always favour the bigger players. I hope to be a Member of Parliament when the Bill comes back and with assistance from the community and my NGO friends be able to turn the tide against corporate control of our food. The biggest immediate threat is not the Food Bill now that the worst of its failings have been pulled up , but the TPPA. Getting out and ensuring the brakes are put on that is critical. Reminding the Govt that the Food Bill is part of the concern at the same time will help. The loss of sovereignty over food and many other aspects of life that the TPPA covers could be profound, so I hope you can help wherever possible on that. Cheers Steffan

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  12. Hi, Steffan, Thanks for such a detailed commentary on the dialogue so far. I’m sure everyone here is grateful that at last someone of standing in the Green Party has come forward.

    “the broad brush approach in matching international standards went too far”- You’re not kidding! This reminds me of the early days of UK’s membership of the EU when politicians were keen to show what “good Europeans” (read “Trans-Pacificans!”) they were and civil servants gleefully wielded the brush according to the most literal interpretation of the directives. The British public complained bitterly that the French etc. were “not playing fair” but the truth is that they had twenty years more experience to learn to play the game softly-softly in their own favour. The UK is still unraveling the mess they made of things in those early years, although most of the damage is permanent- industries gone that can never be revived, to their enduring cultural impoverishment.

    “I suggest you might be stretching it a lot to be continuing to suggest that roadside stalls are to be a thing of the past”- That’s exactly my intent, Steffan. All the time we have to rely on the discression of the minister (or “director” whoever that is, as it says in the bill) under section 95(5) we have no choice but to keep on agitating both before the bill is passed and then with eternal vigilance thereafter. Did you read my comments in para. 6 & 7 of my first comment in this thread (Posted August 6, 2011 at 9:57 AM)? This section 95(5) was, for the reasons I gave back then, written by a person who is either an abusive manipulator of legal language or a fool. Personally, knowing a little about the Macciavellian minds of politicians and their minions, I favour the former diagnosis. This does nothing to inspire me with the ministers true desire to redress the imbalance by using discressionary powers. How much better then that we deal with this formally in the body of the bill.

    “The biggest immediate threat is not the Food Bill now that the worst of its failings have been pulled up , but the TPPA”- I agree, but it is a fact that this issue has grabbed the attention of the public to a far greater extent than the TPPA. I have just sent you a copy of a correspondence between Robin Westenra and myself re. this story. As you will see, at least four times as many hits as any other subject on both our blogs. The TPPA is not capturing peoples imagination as it should, largely because its “a secret”. However, its not a case of either Food Bill or TPPA. Concern / action over one can feed into the other, in my view.

    Best wishes to you for the forthcoming election, although why you should wish to place yourself within that vipers nest is beyond me, I know you will be an asset there. Regards, Kev.

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  13. Kia ora all.

    This bill turns the basic right to grow food with others and regularly share it into a government-authorised privilege that can be summarily revoked. What does this mean? Well, the privilege will be subject to regulations – CODEX ALIMENTARIUS regulations, which will be brought in in NZ as soon as the bill is passed. If you don’t comply with CODEX, you’ll be deregistered and unable to grow and share – a basic loss of your food-growing licence. Read the bill with all this in mind, and you’ll see.

    So, what is CODEX? Well, it could kill you and your kids. Sounds far-fetched? Watch “We Become Silent” – http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=451097355502728465 and “Nutricide” – video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5266884912495233634.)

    So to conclude, under this bill, any concerted efforts to grow and share food in communities will be subject to CODEX ALIMENTARIUS regulations. See for yourself if you think CODEX is a good thing or a bad thing.

    Sue – thoughts, please?

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  14. In response to a private email following this blog train with the concern again as to why the Food Bill wasnt campaigned on earlier and what we might do, I replied;
    I think the Food Bill had such a long ‘incubation’ and development stages, and was so comprehensive, then along with everybody’s (community through to MPs) very full agendas/activity levels, it slipped below the full radar and the ideal level of extra deep inspection. I think the level of change mooted by the Minister in response to Organic NZ and Sue Kedgley’s repeated questions, is realistically about where it will end up. Deeper change will only happen with governmental change or a serious lift in Green’s influence where some change might alter where the thresholds sit between need for food management plans for certain processing and large producers, and just educative material for small scale producers/homesteaders that sell or swap etc on the immediate local market.
    There is no way we will win an argument against safety plans being legislated for against food borne disease, and until there is a major change away from large scale production and supply systems, I do not think it is wise. However we should be promoting the local production and supply, including reducing restrictions on home kill and processing for local community level consumption, ie where large scale risk of food borne disease is the least.
    Food safety agencies need to be far more diligent and regulating more strongly against pesticide use and residues in tandem with any regulations based around microbial fears. Clearly there is a mismatch in emphasis, with focus mostly on the acute features of microbial based illness, the trots etc, rather than the insidious aspects of carcinogenic, endocrine disrupting, and nervous system effects of pesticides that are more chronic in character. GE foods of which there are many come into the latter as well.

    The TPPA must be the immediate emphasis now, and I think that the community is not quite ‘getting it’ on the implications of the TPPA, or who the political friends of that agreement are. That is National and Labour especially, but with inspection, probably United Future and of late the Maori Party, but I need to check the latter positions.
    Labour has long been a proponent of free trade deals and while Phil Goff in a very recent letter says that only if sovereignty etc is protected should the TPPA deal be signed, the existing free trade deals have had serious implications on many productive sectors already, reducing NZ self reliance while encouraging poor environmental and social conditions overseas.

    Getting an adequate level of access for us as an agricultural based exporting economy into various markets needs to be considered with how much is mere commodity production with high internal environmental effects/cost, against high value production (eg organic and added value), that can encourage greater domestic employment and lower environmental footprints. Then equal consideration needs to go into the goods being imported into NZ, with weighting (probably tariffs/volume restrictions) in relation to the environmental costs and social inequity in producing those goods in their country of origin. Thats my current view anyway and the TPPA leaves all this behind while reducing considerably our ability to decide for ourselves as to what constraints to trade are appropriate along the way.

    The Greens leadership is well aware of the TPPA issue and campaign on it. The Food Bill not specifically, but Sue Kedgley has worked hard on getting the worst aspects corrected.
    How do we make TPPA a sexy subject? It seems the general public are not understanding what the TPPA is. I think we need somehow to connect all relevant issues into a TPPA deal issue; Expensive medicines = TPPA, Food Bill = TPPA, GE/GMO = TPPA, foreign ownership = TPPA etc etc Each loss of community/consumer/worker protection/choice/sovereignty is a forerunner of where we will be under the TPPA.

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  15. This Codex thing really confounds me, and I’ve never really taken the time to understand it. It seems that the Codex Alimentarius organisation is fairly well discredited around the world (the real world, that is, not the world that grovels to Agribiz and Big Pharma), see here Background to the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

    My guess is that it would take months to plough through the Codex regs and the food bill provisions and relate the two on an item-by-item basis. Does it say anywhere in the Food Bill 2010 or its preambles when it was introduced before parliament that harmonization was specifically the case?

    Referring to the point I made above in the first paragraph of my answer to Steffan, that international regulations can be used as a stick to beat the domestic producer by over-zealous bureaucrats, I can understand why there is an issue of harmonization of standards for export markets, but why does it affect non-export produce? we already have a situation where the dairy and meat giants use the domestic market as a dump for produce that doesn’t meet export grade (albiet we pay export prices or more!) Maybe the exporters fear competition with a superior domestic product produced by smaller producers? Is Codex just being used as a stick to beat us with on their behalf?

    I’m afraid this country is being run 100% for the export sector and 0% for the general public but do our government have to be so feeble-minded / deceitful when it comes to domestic issues?

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  16. Steffan said:
    “How do we make TPPA a sexy subject?”

    We don’t, I suspect. We need to make it into an epidemic, a plague and a pestilence – which is what it really is. It’s an anathema to the NZ kiwi way of life. Free Trade / TPPA is a lie – a monstrous malfeasant calumny. Free trade (trans-national movement of capital, products and services) cannot exist (by definition, as the expression implies) when there is no free movement of labour and where there are large differences in political policies and legislative requirements.

    It is the difference between the cost of environmental, safety, regulatory and labour compliance costs that makes free trade such a good deal for those countries and corporates in a position to exploit it. I.e. big differences (in those things) make big money.

    When successive NZ government airheads suggest that NZ industries ‘get competitive,’ there is no mention of the competing country not having paid maternity leave, ACC, a Factories Act, six weeks annual and statutory leave, OSH, minimum wage laws – on and on it goes.

    Most of the ******** in W’gton haven’t got one economic clue between them. They have repeatedly qualified themselves for a variety of special awards as they have, year-after-year, exported more and more kiwis jobs to sweat shop labour economies. And, at the same time, wringing hands pseudo-piously about the abuses of human rights (labour) in those very same countries.

    I add my voice to an earlier caveat: join them at your peril, Steffan.

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  17. This Bill is a farce! But then so is the method of government we employ in this country. Hence why there are people occupying and protesting all around the world.

    How many of the 4million people even know let alone have the resources to contribute to the submission process? how would one even know that a bill was up for submissions to be taken?

    I for one will not be following this law passed or not, it’s in the best interests of enforcement officers to be armed if they want to take away my necessities of life.

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  18. With the world short of food due to unprecedented natural disasters what a timely bill that will take away our human right to grow, store and provide for those in need.
    This bill confirms that little NZ will loose its jurisdiction to the all powerful US, UN and large corporatists that run the US administration. John Key by pushing this (US) foreign policy will open the rafters to restriction on further personal freedoms.
    If this bill is allowed to proceed in its current form all I can say is what is next. Oppression, tyranny and despotism are all the dictates of dictators like Hitler and Mussolini, so how long before they round us up and gas us?

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