By Nathan Guy, National MP
"Food tampering is an immensely serious offence, with the potential for huge economic, health and reputational implications when committed. Despite the seriousness of the topic many see it as a mere prank, which was shown last year by the needles in strawberries cases in Australia, and subsequent copycats in New Zealand. The consequences of these acts are serious, and therefore the deterrents need to be equally so. I’ve placed a Members Bill in the Ballot that would address the issue and implement penalties that are more appropriate for the seriousness of the crime.
As well as the obvious health consequences of eating contaminated food, there are many other concerns that can be raised in terms of supply, packaging and profitability when there is a case of food contamination. It amounts to economic sabotage and poses significant risks for consumers and New Zealand’s reputation as a producer of high quality and safe food.
The Australian Government acted swiftly and decisively as a result of the needles in strawberries cases, but in New Zealand the Government has sat on its hands despite pleas from many within the food and grocery sector.
These changes would mean criminalising the contamination of food to cause public alarm, national economic loss or harm to public health, or making threats or hoax statements about contaminating food for those purposes. They would also see the maximum term of imprisonment for intentionally contaminating food increased from 10 to 14 years. These are common sense changes that would mean more piece of mind for those in the sector, and could also lead to less unnecessary packaging on products.
In their current state penalties for these crimes are aligned more with offences relating to dishonesty and conspiracy. I would argue that this is much more serious, and my Crimes (Contamination Offences) Amendment Bill will increase those penalties to align them with the more serious offences of corruption and espionage.
If my Bill is drawn from the Ballot I’ll work closely with National’s Food Safety spokesperson Todd Muller to implement these changes. My Bill recognises the serious physical, psychological and economic effects of such actions. New Zealanders need to know their food is safe and manufacturers should be protected from economic loss these offenders can cause. By implementing the changes in my Members Bill we would be sending a strong message that food tampering is a serious matter."