Charges for food producers ‘not fair’

Felicity Gabites (left) and Tracy Johnson are worrying about food safety in the region after the...
Felicity Gabites (left) and Tracy Johnson are worrying about food safety in the region after the government introduces new charges for small food operators. PHOTO: CONNOR HALEY
Administration costs are set to take a large slice of the cake for South Canterbury’s small food operators.

Registered kitchens across New Zealand will be hit with a new food control compliance cost being phased in on July 1, 2025 at a rate of $57.50 per site in year one, $86.25 per site in year two and $115 in year three.

Designer Cakes owner Tracy Johnson said the Ministry for Primary Industries charge had been expected to be phased in this year, but — as the government was requiring councils to implement the system — it had been stalled when councils across the country unanimously turned down the proposal.

Mrs Johnson said MPI had returned to the drawing board, and decided to enforce it themselves.

She said the charge would come on top of some already exorbitant fees.

Mrs Johnson felt these latest fees could financially cripple some of the newer and smaller food operators in the region, forcing them underground.

"In this current economic climate we need to diversify.

"Small businesses bring new ideas.

"We need to encourage that, not squash them with compliance costs."

At the moment, Mrs Johnson said Timaru-based small food operators had the same yearly council registration fee as a very large business.

Cake makers, coffee carts and people making jams and pickles were paying a base compliance cost of $225, the exact same amount an alehouse or a restaurant down the road would also pay.

While it was a "drop in the bucket" for their larger counterparts, she said it was a significant chunk a year for small food operators like those at the Timaru Farmers Market.

She said some of those operators might only earn $10,000 a year.

"For metaphorical Sandra down the road — who only has enough room and time to make six cakes a month — a month of her year would end up to going towards paying for administration costs, whereas a local restaurant could make that in an hour.

"We don’t have the same earning potential.

"It’s not fair."

Mrs Johnson said a tiered system for councils’ food control fees could make things fairer.

On top of the base fee, small food operators had to pay an audit fee, which could cost from $330 to $350 every 18 months.

But that cost was looking to go up in the next year as — since councils contract it out — that was up for renewal next year.

"I’ve believed in the auditing, but this is not making sense any more."

She — along with seven other small food operators in the region — were requesting the Timaru District Council changed to a tiered system for their council fees, which would help with food safety in the region.

"Making food safety a priority, not money a priority."

They wanted council registration fees lined up with business audit fees, which would reduce costs for the council and for business owners.

She was worried the latest fees would push kitchens underground, which she said was already happening in other parts of the country.

Mrs Johnson said there was a good reason why operating from an unregistered kitchen was illegal.

"You don’t know what is going on in that kitchen."

She said for all a customer knew, a kitchen could be used for nefarious means ... or dogs could be licking crumbs off the bench.

"I’m not saying it is happening, but it can’t be ruled out."

She said the public could help by only buying from registered kitchens, which meant being careful when buying food from Facebook community pages.

Also, they could sign an online petition on the Our Action Station website calling for fair and affordable food regulations.