Prosecutions for domestic sulphite use

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has successfully prosecuted 15 meat wholesalers/ retailers and three company directors in New Zealand for the non-compliant use of sulphites/sulphur dioxide in raw red meat sold in the country.

MPI laid charges after an operation in the greater Auckland area in 2013 where samples of meat were taken for sulphites/sulphur dioxide analysis. The operation was undertaken as part of MPI’s statutory obligation to ensure food safety standards are being met under the Food Act 1981.

The cases were heard in the Manukau and Auckland district courts in late 2014 and early 2015 and resulted in fines ranging from $350 to $4,500, depending on the scope and severity of offending.

MPI compliance operations manager Gary Orr says that operations such as this are undertaken where a risk is identified and are part of MPI’s ongoing efforts to ensure that food available to consumers is safe.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Inc (B+LNZ), the body responsible for domestic meat promotion within New Zealand, supports the actions taken by MPI and points out that none of those prosecuted are part of any major supermarket or high profile butchery chains.

In addition to fines, B+LNZ chief executive Rod Slater says there are serious implications for those found to be non-compliant.

“Make no mistake, there is no room for this type of operator in New Zealand. We take these offences extremely seriously and support MPI’s actions.

“In the main, we find New Zealand retailers and wholesalers are extremely proud of the standards they are upholding. This behaviour is definitely not the norm and I think you’ll find the rest of the industry will be left extremely disappointed,” he says.

Sulphites and sulphur dioxide are food additives used as a preservatives in some foods. the additives are only permitted in specified food products, such as sausages, with maximum permitted levels specified. These particular prosecuted cases related mainly to minced meat production.

Foods containing sulphites/sulphur dioxide can cause serious reactions to certain individuals who are sensitive to them. Due to the potential serious health effects of the consumption of these additives, their use is strictly controlled by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and is required to be declared to consumers. It is not allowed to be used in raw meat.

The illegal use of additives breaches the Food Act 1981 and can result in a fine of up to %5,000 for an individual or $20,000 for a body corporate.


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