Is New Zealand concentrating on food safety when there’s more to be gained by concentrating on food security?
“I was stunned to learn what we know as Food Security is defined by the World Bank as Food Safety. It may sound like semantics but it carries a huge implication for our agricultural producers and exporters,” says Letitia Isa, a student of Massey University Executive MBA programme.
“This simple but fundamental misapprehension may see New Zealand jumping ever higher but illusionary hurdles. Instead of higher standards boosting returns, they may in fact be eroding them for almost no financial gain.
“When the World Bank says Food Safety they are not talking stainless steel, the National Animal Identification and Tracing Scheme or the Emissions Trading Scheme. What the World Bank means is how New Zealand can contribute to the feeding nine billion people by 2050.
“That carries with it a powerful but different policy message.
New Zealand has a well deserved reputation for food safety but the premise that we are jumping unnecessary hurdles isn’t new.
Ever-stricter requirements for food safety have been used as non-tariff barriers for years.
When my farmer was in London in 1982 he visited the Smithfield market and was appalled by the low standard of hygiene there when the EU was requiring such high standards in our freezing works which provided a lot of the meat.
“New Zealand can feed some 24 million people according to the University of Waikato’s Professor of Agribusiness, Jacqueline Rowarth. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation says developed countries need to increase output by 70 percent to do their bit.
“It might sound provocative, but we need to seriously weigh the cost-benefits of adopting polices that do not generate tangible revenue at the farm gate, or increase production. While European supermarkets seem to be a de facto political and policy benchmark, are ever higher compliance costs worth it?
“It may sound counter intuitive, but perhaps quantity does have a quality all of its own. A simple metric maybe if a policy adds a dollar of cost, does it produce well over a dollar of added revenue at the farm gate?
“Moreover, are our other policy settings, particularly around Genetically Modified Organisms, retarding New Zealand’s ability to do its fair global share?
“Certainly, the way the World Bank defines Food Safety needs to become central to New Zealand policy formation. If not, we risk unprecedented global disorder that New Zealand could not escape,” Ms Isa concluded.
It would be stupid to jeopardise our reputation for food safety, especially in the higher-paying markets which are more likely to be concerned about quality than quantity.
However, if we can also increase the quantity of food we produce and still ensure it is safe to eat without the unnecessarily high hurdles some markets require we might be able to do our bit to help the world’s hungry while simplifying compliance, reducing the costs of production and increasing returns.