Kaniva commentary

The news that the government will fine people selling expired food is welcome news.

CEO of the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Viliami Manu said this week people selling food they knew was  not fit or consumption would be fined.

The fines can be imposed after the passage of the Food Act 2020 through Parliament.

Dr. Manu said the Ministry was working to inspect foreign shops and businesses to ensure the area where they defrosted frozen food such as chicken meat boxes were hygienic and safe for use.

Historically, food has been imported from Australia and New Zealand, but now comes from much further afield: China, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The new bill regulates the production, commercially exporting and importing of food products and to ensure they are fit and safe for consumption.

In May Dr. Manu said the Ministry’s job was to make sure food could not affect consumers’ health.

He said people had to be warned three times and if they continued breaking the law they would be charged.

“The accused would face losing their business license or imprisonment for eight years or pay a fine of TP$100,000,” Dr. Manu said.

We believe the any regime of fines will have to be consistently and regularly applied to have an effect.

They should also be backed up by a change in thinking about what people are eating.

Tonga has put up with problems with imported food for too long.

As reported regularly in Kaniva news, the citizens of Vava’u have a long history of grievances over food, stretching back to complaints  about rotten rations and re-labelled expired and being distributed as cyclone relief.

Kaniva news has reported on several instances in Vava’u including dirt encrusted buckets of meat with no labels, inactive fridges full of food and reports of chicken that appears to be full of dark blood.

However, Vava’u is not the only place in Tonga where bad food has been found. The same problems have occurred in Tongatapu and Ha’apai.

Earlier this year we reported comments by His Majesty King Tupou VI that healthy living must become a permanent feature of Tonga in the future.

His Majesty urged people to eat healthy food, especially locally produced natural products.

The blame for the spread of diabetes has been attributed to the change in the Tongan diet from the traditional one of fish, root vegetables and coconuts to one involving imported food, especially tinned meat and fatty cuts like lamb flaps has been blamed for the spread of diseases like obesity and diabetes.

Some people also believe the desire for meat and tinned food has provided opportunities for unscrupulous merchants and importers  to import substandard food.

We argued at the time: “His Majesty’s call for healthy living should be a guide to how this problem can be treated. With all its health problems, Tonga does not need to have additional burdens placed on the health system or its people.

“While strengthening the country’s legal control of food imports, perhaps it is also time to remind people of the healthy options available from Tonga’s own soil and oceans.

“More consumption of this food could make the population healthier, but also boost the local economy by increasing income for fishermen and farmers.”