Report on New Zealand’s Dairy Food Safety Regulatory System - Consolidated Recommendations

The recommendations of the Inquiry are:

The wider view

  • The ministry, in consultation with the industry and other relevant government agencies, should focus on emerging risks and prepare a high-level risk register identifying such risks to dairy food  safety and supply.
  • The ministry should convene a working group to develop a strategic plan to build up sector-wide dairy processing and regulatory capability.
  • A centre of food safety science and research, which could be a virtual centre, should be established to ensure New Zealand remains a leader in the food safety field.
  • In collaboration with other government agencies, the ministry should step up its role and resources, both here and abroad, to allow more effective interaction with New Zealand’s most important, and emerging, export markets, particularly China.
  • All organisations in the sector should endeavour to increase collaboration, whether among regulators, the ministry and the industry, or within the wider dairy industry.

Regulatory design

  • The ministry should accelerate the standards integration programme, using specialist drafters, technical industry experts and recognised agencies from the start of the process.  In particular:
    • Risk management programme requirements should be elevated to regulations, along with the requirements for the notification and reporting of food safety events.
    • There should be a new requirement that risk management programmes be limited to food safety and related regulatory matters.
    • The ministry, verifiers, laboratories and industry should jointly work on drafting and publishing escalation guidelines for food safety incidents.
  • Following the rewrite of the requirements for risk management programmes, the ministry should receive and maintain records of full and up-to-date programmes.
  • It is important that risk management programmes be periodically re-evaluated.

Role of the regulator

  • A Food Safety and Assurance Advisory Council  should be established to provide the ministry with high-level independent strategic advice and risk analysis and report annually to the Director-General on the performance of the system.
  • The ministry should consider the following aspects of its operations:
    • Structure: ensure a more integrated focus on the dairy sector and food safety generally.
    • Roles: ensure greater clarification of multiple, and sometimes conflicting, roles.
    • Capacity and capability: ensure additional skilled staff in food safety generally and specifically in the dairy sector.
    • Visibility: ensure greater prominence of the ministry’s food safety role.
    • Risk communication: ensure greater resourcing of, and priority for, this role.
    • Engagement: hold regular workshops and participate fully in overseas forums.
  • Additional funding should be allocated to Vote Food Safety, targeted at food safety and dairy-related capability; China and new markets capability; the redrafting of regulations; and the Food Safety and Assurance Advisory Council.

Role of verifiers

  • The independent verification system should be strengthened in the following ways:
    • Provide greater clarity of the verifier’s role as agent of the ministry to make clear the true client is the regulator, not the industry.
    • Subject dairy processing operators using template risk management programmes to more rigorous scrutiny.
    • Encourage verifiers and the industry (with ministry approval) to consider how the regular auditing process can provide more evaluation without straying into consultancy.
    • Involve verifiers in product dispositions featuring novel or improvised reworking.
    • Provide verifiers’ accreditation reports directly to the ministry to ensure full and transparent reporting.
  • The ministry should carry out more analysis of audit information to identify areas of particular concern, emerging issues or risks and compliance trends.
  • Accreditors and verifiers should endeavour to consult and collaborate as appropriate to ensure continued improvements to the accreditation and verification systems.

Testing: quality and integrity

  • SRC testing should not be mandatory for all dairy products.
  • The ministry should compile and maintain a list of accredited laboratories for non-standard or novel tests.
  • The ministry should give priority and resources to better analysis of existing data to identify trends, including extending its surveillance programmes where appropriate.

Implementation of food safety standards

  • The ministry, recognised agencies and industry should work to foster a positive food safety culture, and identify mechanisms to evaluate the food safety culture within companies.
  • The ministry should promptly inform industry of new overseas market access requirements and where practicable consult industry about such requirements.
  • The compliance and enforcement tools in the Animal Products Act 1999 should be aligned with those in the Food Bill, which is currently before Parliament, and should include a full range of tools.
  • The ministry should prioritise analysis of food safety compliance data.

Traceability, recall and contingency planning

  • The ministry should convene a working group to consider first, the most appropriate regulatory provisions for traceability of dairy products, and secondly, a code of practice or similar to guide industry in implementing such provisions.
  • Recall provisions should be revised, in particular:
    • Mandatory recall provisions in food legislation should be aligned.
    • Voluntary recall obligations should be set out in regulations rather than in risk management programmes.
    • Regulations should require industry to simulate recalls, audited by verifiers.
    • Circumstances in which privileged statements can be made should be clarified.
  • The ministry should be given statutory responsibility for food safety contingency planning. Industry and regulators should simulate tracing, recall and general food safety incidents from time to time as part of such contingency planning.

Infant formula

  • The ministry should prioritise its infant formula work programme, and complete the revision of food safety-related regulatory requirements for the  manufacture of infant formula (and, if appropriate, ingredients for infant formula) within six months.
  • The ministry, with input from the relevant working groups, should resolve whether infant formula and other high-risk products should routinely undergo SRC testing, based on scientific, risk-based and cost-benefit analysis.
  • The ministry should strengthen requirements for  exporters of infant formula to ensure traceability.
  • Regulatory requirements under both the Animal Products Act 1999 and the Food Act 1981 should be aligned.
  • The ministry, in consultation with the industry, should develop options to provide foreign markets with the assurance of authenticity of New Zealand-manufactured infant formula products.