By Finau Fonua
The recently enacted Food Act 2014 was reviewed last night under a theme “Food safety is your business”, at a Tonga Chamber of Commerce and Industry meeting.
An overview of the Food Act 2014, which was passed in July, was presented by Dr Viliami T. Manu, deputy director for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forestry and Fisheries, Research & Extension Division.
The Act makes it an offence to sell food that is unfit for human consumption, as well an offence to sell food prepared in unsanitary conditions. It is also an offence to sell misleading labels and to operate a food business without any license as required by the Act.
The penalties outlined are severe, a first time offender is liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment not exceeding three years.
The review of the Act caused concern among business owners. Many believed the provisions were unclear in regard to the liability of importers, distributors and local producers. There were also concerns that the Act would unfairly impact small-scale food businesses such as BBQ outlets and food stalls.
To enforce its regulations, the Act establishes the “National Food Authority” and the “National Food Council”. The authority is assigned to the Minister of Health who is given the power to order food inspections carried out by authorized officers. The National Food Council will consist of three to seven members and will overlook the National Food Authority.
According to the Act, food inspections will ensure that food “meets the prescribed standards of food safety and food quality”. If food is found to be “unfit for consumption” an authorized officer will have the power to “seize and seal such food,” or to “issue a written notice ordering the immediate destruction of the food.”
The definition of food “unfit for consumption” will be contentious. Popular foods such as canned corn-beef and soda drinks are widely considered to be unfit for consumption by health organisations and blamed for causing high rates of diabetes and obesity in Tonga.