The legal implications of diversifying your farming operation
Agri-tourism and food are growing sectors in New Zealand. We have farm tourism where tourists are shown working farms with activities such as sheep dog and shearing exhibitions. Artisan producers are growing their own products and then processing them into, say, cheese, and free-range pigs are becoming salami, bacon and ham.
Often farm and food tourism begins as a way of diversifying a farm’s income stream. Sometimes it starts off as a relatively small hobby or sideline activity but then grows into something much larger in scale.
There are legal implications to consider when you diversify your farming operation in these ways, particularly with regard to health and safety in the workplace and food safety.
Health and safety
One of the main issues with health and safety is that diversification brings a change in type of visitor to your farm. A regular farming operation has contractors or workers regularly coming onto your farm, whether they are employees, shearers, fencers and, in the case of horticultural enterprises, there are pickers. As well, you will have as other people such as engineers and electricians all working on your farm. As they come from a work environment contractors, in particular, will have their own health and safety plans, and will be used to and understand the risks inherent in the farming environment.
However, if you are opening up your farm to tourists, whether you’re operating a homestay or you have groups such as tours from cruise ships, there are other factors to consider. The tourists may be:
• Disabled, physically or intellectually
• Not native English speakers, and/or
• Visiting in large groups.
All of these factors produce a different health and safety scenario than in the normal farming operation. In addition, as the farming operation diversifies it may change from a straight farming business to also having a production component with the establishment of facilities for processing its produce to a higher level.
What this means is that your farming operation’s health and safety profile changes considerably and, therefore, the health and safety policies and procedures for the farm will need to be modified.
The main consideration where a farm is considering developing a production process such as cheese making, craft beer brewing from hops grown on the farm, processing meat raised on the farm, are the food safety aspects.
Generally food safety is overseen by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) that ‘aims to ensure that the health and safety risks from food are negligible and that consumer health and wellbeing are protected’. MPI does this by:
• Developing and regulating food standards
• Providing official assurances and other certification for wine, animal and plant food products for exporters to overseas markets
• Tightly controlling the products that can be used in agriculture, and
• Responding to food safety incidences and suspected breaches of legislation.
There are a number of pieces of legislation that seek to regulate the above matters. Of particular importance is the Food Act 2014.
The Food Act 2014, which came into force in 2016, was somewhat controversial at first. The legislation changed the emphasis from regulating premises where food was produced for sale to how that food was produced for sale (our emphasis). There were concerns when the Act was introduced that it would create an increased level of compliance that would make it difficult for smaller, artisan-type producers to continue to operate.
Essentially, the Food Act required businesses that make or sell food to register with MPI by 30 November 2018. The legislation manages the risks involved in making and selling food, and does that by requiring businesses to adopt a ‘food control plan’. A food control plan provides a tool for identifying risks and shows how they are being managed. Generally (but not always) those food control plans must be registered with the local authority.
It was these food control plans that food-producing businesses were concerned about. There were news stories about restaurants being unable to cook rare hamburgers. Artisan cheesemakers in particular, given the nature of their product, were said to be unable to produce compliant food plans. However, the Act has been in force for two years or so now and that initial controversy seems to have died down.
Your farming operation must be compliant in all its activities
If you are a farmer or food producer wishing to diversify or changing the activities on your farm, the main issue is for you to be aware of the implications of making those changes. This is particularly so if you are inviting tourists or visitors to your farm or you are establishing a food producing operation which processes and sells food to the public.
It’s important that your farming operation is compliant in all its activities, as the penalties for getting it wrong can be significant.
If you need any guidance on any aspect of diversifying your farming operation, we’re here to help you – please don’t hesitate to contact us.