Aotearoa Food Policy Network

This week the Aotearoa Food Policy Network was born!

While we have been working on plans for a food policy council in Northland, there has been activity happening around the country. People and Groups in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, the Bay of Plenty and Auckland have, or are forming groups focussing on food policy.

The Northland Food Policy Network has its inaugural meeting at The Orchard, 85 Cameron Street, Whangarei.

The national network will initially work together through a Loomio site. It is in the very early stages of development, so nothing is finalised yet, including the name. Collectively, we will have more impact to support advocacy to influence changes to food policy and accelerate the shift to sustainable food systems.

CoOL; Country of origin labelling

HortNZ is working hard to support the Consumer’s Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill. You can keep informed about the progress of the bill through a Facebook page.

Submissions on the bill close on 18 May 2017. You can also send a message to your M.P. through this website.

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What is policy and how do we change it?

How change happens duncan greenOn the cusp of establishing a Northland Food Policy Council (or whatever we might call it) I have stumbled across a book that has thrown a lot of light on the policy universe. In How Change Happens, Duncan Green shares his knowledge as a long-time advocate for change. The book is available for sale, but is also free on Duncan’s website. The complexity of the policy environment is perhaps best expressed in the author’s quote of former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

“In establishing the rule of law, the first five centuries are the hardest”.

This poses a compelling challenge for New Zealanders. Our nation is less than two centuries old. But hopefully we aren’t in for another three centuries of hard work. After all, we have the legacy of tikanga, British law and a broader and deeper legacy pieced together over humanity’s long social evolution.

Two pathways – global and local

Two trends encourage. The first is the growing body of international policy ranging from law to aspirational statements. Two highly relevant to sustainable food systems are the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Economic Ethic. The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems are also shaping policy discourse at the global level. This trend seeks to distill universal values and principles to guide our peaceful and prosperous development.  For example, the Global Economic Ethic  advocates of the “principle of humanity” as the ethical yardstick for all economic action based on sustainability, respect, fair cooperation and the Golden Rule. These are underpinned by basic values for doing business globally:

  • non-violence and respect for life
  • justice and solidarity
  • honesty and tolerance
  • mutual respect and partnership.

The other emerging trend is toward greater local autonomy and self-determination. While hegemonic forces herd us like sheep towards a bland global consumerist culture, there is an encouraging shift in the opposite direction towards localism. Ideally, the most basic social unit, the family, will have autonomy to act within the broad parameters of evolving global policy.

global and localIn the context of food, ideally families will have choice to eat food that nourishes without their perception being clouded by commercial considerations – especially the rapacious food and medical corporations that privilege profit over health and well-being.

Valuing pluralism

According to Google, pluralism is “a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.” In New Zealand, almost two centuries on from the birth of our nation we are struggling to come to terms with pluralism. Nineteenth century assumptions of European superiority created homogenising conceptions of right and wrong. Some are still clinging to a Eurocentric view of the world. From this perspective the only valid law comes from Western sources and the maxim “one law for all” dominates.

Before Europeans arrived here, Māori society functioned on its own indigenous policy framework – tikanga. The Māori Dictionary’s definition of tikanga embraces a range of synonyms for policy and related social regulation:

“The correct procedure, custom, habit, lore, method, manner, rule, way, code, meaning, plan, practice, convention, protocol – the customary system of values and practices that have developed over time and are deeply embedded in the social context.”

Tikanga is itself pluralistic as it varies from place to place, and the authorities are the people of any particular location. Many Pākehā have struggled to accomodate tikanga in an unwavering belief in “one law for all” (as long as they get to determine who makes those laws). An example is the justice system. Although Māori constitute 15% of the population, they account for 51% of the male prison population. But attempts to develop the mare-based justice system are stymied by the “one law for all” mantra. Duncan Green observes that “customary (indigenous) law is often about making peace and reconciliation, rather than establishing guilt and redress” (page 104). Customary law can also be brutal. Duncan green advises us to both avoid a “west-is-best bias and a naive romanticism about the woking of customary systems” (page 106).

However, we can achieve a greater synergy between these two traditions in ways that best serve local communities. Can you see a future where this is the case? Do you pass F. Scott Fitzgerald’s intelligence test?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

There are signs of hope as co-governance agreements between Māori authorities and the crown become more common. The recent determination of the Whanganui River as a legal “person” is an encouraging sign. Is this any stranger than a corporation being a legal person (as they have been for the last 150 years)?

The interaction of the various actors involved in developing food policy in new Zealand will be greatly enhanced by Māori input. Ever since the accelerated alienation of their land in the mid 1800s, Māori have engaged in the struggle for justice, working through the courts and government. Their longer-term view of investment, focus on kaitiakitanga and commitment to retaining the land make them a powerful constituent of the food movement.

This is an attempt to explore some elements of policy. More will follow.

Is the food policy pasture greener in New Zealand?

Anne_Palmer-reducedBy Anne Palmer

Program Director
Food Communities & Public Health Program
Center for a Livable Future
Johns Hopkins University

Anne was a keynote speaker for the Local Food Northland Conference in February this year. In this post she reflects on her time in New Zealand. See the original post here.


A failing dairy industry. Streams polluted by animal manure. Consolidated food retail, inadequate slaughter facilities for small – and medium-size producers, the list goes on. Where am I? New Zealand. Yep. Before I stepped foot on the soil, I was cautioned that I should not believe the “cleaner, greener” moniker. I’m not sure if it was heartening to blow up the myth and realize we are all suffering from industrialization of the food system, or just depressing that problems in the food system are dispersed so far and wide.
The solutions are dispersed, too. Back in September, Peter Bruce-Iri from Local Food Northland invited me to New Zealand to keynote and participate in a two-day food conference. He had studied the food council model and wanted to introduce it as part of a larger strategy for rebuilding the Northland’s regional food system. It took me about 30 seconds to make my decision (even with my carbon footprint in mind). How could I say no to New Zealand? Peter suggested additional connections for me to make my trip even more meaningful, including a webinar for the Good Food Network organized by Emily Dowding-Smith from the Sustainable Business Network and a workshop with Healthy Families Rotorua, arranged by Jasmin Jackson.The original plan was to hold an advance food-foraging event that would provide food for the conference. (I imagined myself in an Omnivore’s Dilemma scenario, but the wild boar would remind me of Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web). That plan was thwarted by regulations that prohibit the sale of food that has been “caught wild.” Nevertheless, thanks to Ian and his sous chefs, I gained three pounds in eight days. And every pound was worth it. Even though we were unable to forage for our meals, most of the delicious food was sourced locally.

I spent my Saturday morning at the Whangarei Growers Market with Jeff Griggs, a co-founder of the Local Food Northland endeavor. Jeff is an American who immigrated to New Zealand many years ago and now farms avocados and cut flowers, along with other produce like kiwifruit outside of town with his dog, Ted. The oldest growers market in New Zealand, Whangarei Growers Market regulates that you can only sell what you grow, and Robert, the market manager and 70-year-old farmer, explained he has no problem tracking down the offenders because the produce looks different. I watched him collect the $20 stall fee from vendors while we shopped for Luisa plums, blueberries and lavender products. (Note to self: organize trips based on seasonal harvesting schedules).

After the market, Jeff invited me to join the weekly Whangarei Transition Town meeting at the local library where residents discuss ways they can improve self-sufficiency at the local level. Originating in the UK in 2006, the Transition Towns movement seeks to address peak oil and climate change, and challenge the notion of unlimited economic growth. We had a lively discussion about school gardens, people’s eating habits, electric cars (thanks, Ross) and more.

handsome frog

And now on to the conference. Close to 100 people gathered at the marae (including students from North-Tec, growers, public health professionals, chefs and researchers) for the powhiri, a traditional Maori welcome. Whangarei’s mayor, Sheryl Mai, also welcomed us in Maori. Participants lined up to touch foreheads and noses with the planning committee, a Maori greeting called hongi, which symbolizes sharing the breath of life. As a lifelong hugger, this was a reverent experience.I talked about the various food movements in the U.S. with a special focus on what is happening around food policy councils, why policy is important and how the various food movements are working together to activate change. (One participant told me he never thought policy was important until he heard me. Best compliment ever.)

Over the two days, we heard from Peter about the features of a sustainable food system and importance of scale-appropriate policy. Ruth Marsh introduced the Vermont Farm to Plate framework, which Local Food Northland has been using to guide their regional effort. Rangimarie Price talked about how Maori principles on sustainability are embedded in the local food strategy. Jeff discussed how to connect and build a network for collaborating. There was a lively discussion about the role of chefs and restaurants in supporting local producers. While some of the larger cities have capitalized on the farm-to-table concept, in smaller cities like Whangarei, chefs are sourcing from local growers with very little or no marketing efforts.

I joined the policy discussion for the small group breakout and heard Regina, a NorthTec student and single mom who is working with faculty on various food endeavors, bemoan the demise of her kitchen garden this year because she is going to school full-time and raising her four children. I have heard this same conundrum in many focus groups and community meetings in Baltimore; doing the “right thing” frequently falls on the backs of those who have the least amount of time.

On Day Two, we heard from renowned nutrition scientist Barbara Burlingame about sustainable diets and nutritional superiority of native bananas versus the Cavendish variety that is ubiquitous in supermarkets around the world. Northland has a variety that reminds me of passionfruit, and there are discussions about reviving that industry. (Lucky for Northland, Barbara just moved back to Wellington and joined the faculty at Massey University after 16 years at FAO in Rome as the deputy director of the nutrition section). Dr. Melissa Gilbert, an integrative medicine doctor, discussed her efforts to get patients to grow and eat from backyards. Dr. Laupepa Va’a from the district health board talked about food recovery efforts in Northland. A diverse panel of growers debated the challenges they face from a policy and climate perspective, while another panel focused on the role of food hubs in rebuilding distribution systems. Clive McKegg, the third leg of the Local Food Northland founding members (along with Peter and Jeff), wrapped up the conference by discussing how the Local Food Northland’s mission “to establish Northland as a centre for growing and processing tasty healthy foods in ways that build community cohesion, increased economic resilience, improve health outcomes and enhance the natural environment” can be actualized in their collective efforts. I left inspired and remain inspired as I witness the conference follow-up on the Loomio online platform, designed by a New Zealand company.

After my time in Whangarei, I traveled to Rotorua, which was challenging. I liken this part of the journey to the 80s classic movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles (think Buses, Cars and Hitchhiking). Lucky for me, Hayley, another conference attendee, was scheduled on my flight and she took the reins to get me to my destination that day. I strolled around Rotorua’s thermal lake, careful not to step in a bubbling hole, and enjoyed the hotel’s thermal pools while preparing for the second workshop.

Jasmin Jackson from Healthy Families Rotorua invited me to meet with groups from Rotorua and Tauranga who have been engaged in food and nutrition activities in their area and want to expand to policy. About 45 people attended the workshop, many from the public health sector. Healthy Families, working in 10 locations across New Zealand, is a national initiative that seeks to create health-promoting environments in the community and is involved with food policy efforts in other parts of the country. We talked about the opportunities and challenges associated with local food policy and ideas for strengthening their network. Even with the central government driving most legislation, I learned that New Zealand’s regional government structure offers options for organizing, especially around regulations for small-scale growers, land use, distribution networks and public health. I heard several participants talk about the importance of policy being informed by research, opportunity to expand public health mapping to other food system components and the need to better understand existing supply chains to improve distribution.

I travelled 23 hours to find myself in a beautiful location (since this is a food policy blog, I did not talk about the beautiful beaches, frolicking dolphins or the rails-to-trails bike ride, but those were also remarkable) that is facing many of the same issues we have in the U.S., albeit at a different scale. It is a scale that may serve them well as I witness the conversations among the conference participants already deciding how to move forward. I invite them to share their challenges and successes with us here in Crazy Town, where microwaves spy on you.

Why we need food policy

Our current food system doesn’t serve us well. My perception is that it has evolved into an ideal money making machine – for those who have positioned themselves to harvest the economic benefits. Most of us identify the dynamic below that would seek to lock us in to dependency on big players in the food and health industries.


A recent report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems identifies food system dynamics and advocates for a European Union Common Food Policy.

In Europe, as here, there is increasing consumer choice around food purchases, but little choice around the food systems that produce that food and deal with its consequences. Problems are exacerbated by siloed thinking, conflicting motives, disconnected policy and self-interest.

The need for new policy responses is made all the more pressing by the multiple crises now afflicting food systems in the EU and around the world, from burgeoning obesity to environmental degradation and pressures on farmer livelihoods. Our current political systems and policy frameworks are ill-equipped to address these crises. The policy tools affecting food systems do not respond to a set of agreed priorities. Instead, our food systems are the by-product of political compromises struck in various fora on the basis of various competing interests. The lack of a coherent food policy, cutting across sectors and joining up different levels of governance, means that accountability is hugely dispersed. When poor outcomes arise, no one can be held to account. With neither a pilot nor a flight plan, it is possible to ignore how badly food systems have veered off course (page 1).

The report positions this problem as a major opportunity. This resonates with our Northland experience.

Food is an entry point for joined up policymaking across multiple sectors and governance levels; sustainable food systems can provide a benchmark for actions in all of those areas. It is also a promising entry point for repairing democratic deficits and reconnecting European citizens with the policy measures put in place by their elected representatives (page 1).

The report is part of a “three year participatory process of Research, Reflection and Citizen Engagement”. With little sign of our government showing such resolve, we are at least raising awareness of the dire need for food policy reform. Please help – the first step is to engage. You can read the report here.

Murry Burns on food safety plans

Murry Burns, one of the two founders of the Whangarei Growers markets featured on Radio NZ Bulletins today.

He is commenting on the impact of food safety plans mandated by the The Food Safety Law Reform Bill. This was featured in an earlier post about artisan cheese makers.

As discussed in the earlier post, a Food Policy Council would be a voice in policy for smaller food producers on this and related issues. Local Food Northland are working on this now.

“If I am forced to wash my greens in chlorine and use fungicide like the big producers I will simply close my business.” Murray Burns

Here is an image from Hydro Healthy’s Facebook Page. Nicki comments that “when there are frogs in the water, it shows how clean and pesticide free the water we grow in is”. Murry and Nicki have developed an innovative hydroponic system that integrates chooks and liquid composts into the growing media.



Northland Food Policy Council Hui

As part of our food re-localisation project we have initiated meetings with interested parties across Northland. This is about discussing options and developing membership of a “Food Policy Council” from a wide cross section of education, health, growers, processors and so on in Northland.

The first took place in Waipapa and involved people from Four Seasons Farms (eco-biological production of food or Community Seed Banking), Edible Kerikeri (utilising public spaces for food production), Far North Resilient Communities Trust (Timebanking, facilitation of all types of community development in the Far North), and Far North Civil Defence and ourselves (many of the participants also wear multiple “hats” in other organisations – the beauty of Northland!).

img_1564The second meeting was hosted by Te Rarawa in Kaitaia and also included representatives from Healthy Families Far North, Four Seasons Farms and FNDC. We were warmly welcomed by Executive Officer Kevin Robinson. Obviously the emphasis on a sustainable local food movement hits a chord with all concerned with the future of our communities and our tamariki.

One of the key ideas to come out of our hui was the importance of creating new stories that show that there are alternatives to our current economic models and that communities can rise up and make a difference. Out of this thought came the idea of working collaboratively with one Northland community to create prototype for other communities to learn from. Watch this space!

Thanks to FNDC/Manaia Health Kai Ora fund for help with our costs for attending these meetings 🙂

Changes to the Northland Regional Council

A growing number of us are aware that “business as usual” just isn’t good enough anymore. Those who privilege economic priorities over social and environmental concerns are yesterday’s men.

Its hard to determine who to vote for in local body elections. Several NRC candidates make generic statements about growing the economy and enhancing the environment. These statements sound good, but it is hard to find clues about how they might do this.


New NRC Councillors, Jocelyn Yoeman, Rick Stolwerk, Justin Blaikie, Penny Smart, Mike Finlayson (Images from the NRC website)

Five new councillors have been elected. Four of these five demonstrate clear commitment to sustainability or environmental restoration. I don’t have sufficient information about Jocelyn Yoeman yet to make a call, but there is clear evidence for the others. Here are some extracts from their candidate information. I have also spoken with three of them ,confirming what is written here.

Mike Finlayson

“We need to work together to ensure: Rates increases are kept to a bare minimum, if any; More jobs are created, especially protecting our environment, by complimenting council funds with outside sources; Development is environmentally sustainable; Northland remains GE Free; Council decisions are made locally, not in Wellington”.

Penny Smart

“…A firm believer in the four pillars of sustainability: environmental, cultural, social and financial; Committed to positive progress for our two greatest assets; the people and the environment; Passionate about Northland’s potential, yet practical and solution driven toward our challenges…”

Rick Stolwerk

“I am passionate about our Northland environment, protecting it as well as encouraging sustainable economic development in the region. I believe in healthy communities, which support one another and I understand the pressures on the environment and on people. Environmental, economic and community integration is vital.”

Justin Blaikie

…having environmental policies that protect and enhance the regions natural resources, particularly water quality, soil quality and the coastal/marine environment; and maintaining and enhancing a stable and diverse economic platform, that can provide for the wellbeing of Northland’s culturally diverse population.”

Jocelyn Yoeman calls for balanced decision-making.

“I believe we need to strike a balance between protection and use of our natural resources and elect decision-makers who will listen to all points of view before making rules that affect us all.”

Of the other four incumbents, David Sinclair has a strong commitment to Seacleaners and cleaning Northlands foreshores of litter.

By the time the next local body election comes around in 2019, Local Food Northland will be ready to pose a series of questions to identify where candidates stand on issues related to moving to more sustainable food systems.

This election featured a number of close calls. Justin Blaikie trailed Joe Carr by two votes in Hokianga-Kaikohe, but took top spot when results were finalised. The Hamilton Mayor had a narrow 9 vote lead over his closest opponent. This demonstrates how important it is to engage in our democratic processes.



Change will come at the local and regional levels

There have been some great results in our local body elections. I am happy that Sheryl Mai has been re-elected in Whangarei. She is a supporter of Local Food Northland, hosting our first formal meeting in her office and is a strong supporter of the Whangarei Growers Market. Tricia Cutforth has been re-elected. She campaigned tirelessly and successfully for the Council to make Whangarei District the first Fair Trade District in New Zealand. It is also good to see Greg Innes re-elected to the WDC – another strong supporter of local food.


Sheryl Mai fielding congratulations on her re-election (image from The Northern Advocate).

There is a new Mayor in Kaipara and John Carter has been re-elected in the far North. I would welcome thoughts from residents in these districts about the outcome of their elections. Future posts will explore the election outcomes for the District Health Boards and the Regional Council.

Local body politicians are more likely than national politicians to drive change towards more sustainable food systems. They tend to be more pragmatic and less ideologically bound and will respond to local concerns. The 2015 World Cities Summit Mayors Forum in New York ended with a strong declaration on sustainability.

The Meeting of the Minds Website outlines how mayors in the U.S. are creating sustainable connected cities.

“Cities are the places where we live and interact. We expect our city leaders to keep them healthy, safe and vibrant. Mayors fill the potholes, provide needed services to people and grow the economy. Even more, the nation’s mayors are leading the charge to develop sustainable, livable, smart cities”. from Meeting of the Minds.

Back in New Zealand, Gareth Morgan accuses Mayoral candidates of being “asleep at the wheel” on the junk food problem. Their are encouraging exceptions. Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese has been re-elected. Her she is talking about sugary drinks.

It is said that we get the government we deserve. More local body elections, and eventually national politicians will support the move to more food systems as more of us raise our own expectations and champion the issue.


Cheese and why we need a food policy council

Artisan cheese makers like Biddy Fraser-Davies could be forced out of business by soaring government compliance costs. The Food Safety Law Reform Bill may well result in higher compliance costs.

Biddy makes about $40,000 of cheese from four cows. Her cheeses have won super gold and silver at World Cheese Awards. She milks the cows herself and makes the cheese. For images of her cheese making process see Biddy’s website.


Biddy making cheese (image from Radio NZ)

Her cheese is made from raw milk and authorities have concerns about microbes. Before 2009 her compliance costs used to be a couple of hundred dollars a year. That year they went up to $5500. Because of her small scale, her costs now total $260 per kilo (you can read more detail in the Radio NZ article).

This is insane.

Compliance or risk?

One issue is the number of microbes permitted. According to the Radio NZ article, biddy says “In New Zealand it’s been set that you can’t have more than 1000, but in England the level is 10,000 and in Europe it’s 100,000. The raw cheese that is imported into New Zealand is allowed to have those higher standards.”

Many of you will experience creep of compliance in your work or businesses. It would be more appropriate in cases such as Biddy’s to assess risk. A two factor risk assessment process considers both the likelihood and the impact of an adverse event occurring. There was a report of a death from the consumption of raw milk in Australia a year or so ago, but how many rural families have been consuming raw milk for decades? When did you last hear of a health issue around raw milk?  As an international prize-winning cheese maker, we can probably assume that Biddy approaches her craft with a high levels of professionalism. I would assume the likelihood of a health problem from eating her cheese is very low.

With her low volumes of production, the impact would also be low. By contrast, while Fonterra has excellent food safety standards, the impact of a bad batch of cheese would be much higher, based on their scale and global market presence.

The role of a Food Policy Council

Local Food Northland is in the process of researching the feasibility of establishing a Food Policy Council in Northland. This would be modelled on the work of the 282 Food Policy Councils in North America. A Food Policy Council would be a voice in policy for smaller food producers. The state of Vermont, for example has developed a regional plan to restore balance and sanity to regulations. Here is goal 23 of their plan:

“Regulations and enforcement capacity will ensure food safety, be scale appropriate, and allow Vermont food enterprises to increase production and expand their market outlets”.

The key words here are “scale appropriate”. The second part of the goal links increased production and expansion of markets to this scale appropriateness.

It seems that we have a government that pursues big economic numbers, but a strength of our economy is small business. Clumsy compliance will drive more small businesses to the wall. We only have three raw cheese makers in the country. It would be nice to increase that number, but I fear they will disappear.

If we can establish a Food Policy Council in Northland, hopefully they will be replicated around the country, enabling us to make our voice heard.


Isobel.pngBiddy will be speaking at a select committee hearing into the bill on 13 October in Wellington. All power to her and her four cows, Dizzy, Holly, Patsy and Isobel!

And more on raw milk soon.

Here’s Isobel.