Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Food Bill

So today my attention was drawn to the Food Bill. It's a bill that's due to have it's second reading in parliament early next year.

It's purpose is to regulate the food industry and replace the aging Food Act (1981). It is also part of our obligations to the World Trade Organisation, which paves the way towards the Codex Alimentarius. That's almost an entirely new discussion, but believe me it's just as scary as the Food Bill.

The problem with the Bill is that it seems to be left very open - essentially it could currently be interpreted to say that providing home grown food to your neighbours is illegal, that seed saving is illegal, and could be used to wipe Farmer's Markets off the face of the planet.

Given that one of my life's dreams is to own a self-sufficient property, from which I would be highly likely to sell produce, obviously I am pretty worried.

I give away produce even from my balcony garden, and I strongly believe that every human has the right to grow their own food if they have the ability to do so. The idea of this being regulated gives me the heebeejeebes.

That said, The Green Party have said that they will fight for the rights of home growers, and even though I was first alerted to the problem by this (somewhat alarmist) article, I've spent the evening looking at other articles. I'm reasonably convinced that this won't in reality hurt home growers.

It probably will end up regulating Farmer's Markets, however, and it almost definitely will affect seed saving - and that's pretty scary.

You see, there's this big company in the US called Monsanto. Monsanto sell Soy Bean seeds. Soy beans are a huge crop world wide, and Monsanto basically own the industry. When the soy bean farmer decides to plant Monsanto crops, they agree they will not save seed from that crop - which means they have to keep buying seeds from Monsanto. That's not too bad until you realise that Monsanto also litigate against any farmer whose crop was accidentally cross pollinated with a Monsanto crop (those pesky winds and honey bees are so hard to control), and even where a plant springs from the dregs of last year's crop. Seriously. Google it, or even just look at this. Even if they don't have a case, they will litigate farmers growing non-Monsanto soy beans to bankruptcy.

It's pretty crazy. It's just one example of where putting a legal framework around seed saving can go horribly wrong.

Because seed saving is the thing which has saved thousands of heirloom plants from being wiped off the planet. If saving an endangered animal is important, then surely saving endangered plants is too? Heirloom plants have stronger medicinal properties than their modern hybrids. The thing about these naturally occurring medicinal properties - things like peppermint tea for a sore stomach, or lemon and ginger for a cold - is that big corporates cannot currently make money off them. We are all free to grow our own lemons, or our own peppermint (which is my favourite plant in my garden). I believe it should stay that way. The Food Bill in it's current form threatens that right (don't believe me? This bill is paving the way for the above mentioned Codex, click here to see what that kettle of fish means). Saving seeds is important work. Making it illegal to save them is like making it illegal for zoos to encourage the conception and birth of endangered species.

I don't want to have my hobby and my dreams turned off by legislation. I don't want to have corporates charge me for the very things which are our birth rights. Some things are free, and there are plenty of people out there that rely on their gardens to provide the food on their plates - either by choice or by circumstance. I believe Farmer's Markets are an important part of our community and a great way to do your part for your local economy and to reduce the amount of carbon you generate.

I don't want legislation that threatens these things. Be aware of it. Pay attention to it. Fight it if you have to. If this bill isn't amended, you can guarantee I will be front and center for the picket line.

Further Reading
Proposed Food Bill (foodsafety.govt.nz)
New food bill in New Zealand takes away human right to grow food (linked above)
Food Bill update from Sue Kedgley (linked above)
How the Food Bill Could Affect You (Campbell Live, 22 November 2011)
Food Bill Backlash Stuns Government
Proposed NZ Food Bill 'ridiculous', says industry leader
Food Inc (a documentary which highlights the problems with the food industry, including the Monsanto issue)

What can you do?
NZ Food Security
Sign the Petition

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