After more than four years of campaigning, beekeepers holding Registered Management Programmes (RMPs) registration for their honey facilities got a hard-fought-for win from the Ministry for Primary industries (MPI) recently when rules were introduced making the move to yearly – rather than twice annual – audits more attainable. However, those leading the charge are not fully convinced of the benefits just yet.
“The proof will be in the pudding,” says Apiculture New Zealand (ApiNZ) chief executive Karin Kos, while New Zealand Beekeeping Inc (NZBI) say they lack confidence in the ability of auditors to fairly implement the new RMP rules.
For years both industry bodies have been lobbying MPI to make a change to their requirement for honey extraction, processing or storage facilities – some of which are only in use for a few months a year – to be audited every six months. The beekeeper representatives wanted annual audits and last year that was made possible, but only if the RMP holder went through a range of training exercises.
Figures showed very few RMP holders were willing to make that costly effort to get to ‘Step 7’ and instead were reaming at ‘Step 6’ and twice annual visits from the inspectors. Now though, under the new rules, competence to move to Step 7 and annual audits can – theoretically – be proven through a history of compliance and knowledge.
“It should be a lot simpler, but the proof is in the pudding. So, we will be very interested to hear from people how they go. As I understand it MPI has briefed the verifiers on the new rules,” Kos says.
“The devil is in the detail and people will be going through that with their next audit.”
RMP audits are carried out by MPI or private company AsureQuality.
A bone of contention for NZBI during the long lobbying process has been AsureQuality’s dual role as auditors and providers of training programmes, something they say is a conflict of interest as they can decide who requires their training and who doesn’t.
“Regulators should be separate from trainers, otherwise they have an incentive to keep beekeepers dangling in the ‘almost good enough’ category – something MPI’s own figures bear out,” says Ian Fletcher, an advisor to NZBI.
Under the new rules this conflict still exists.
MPI, when asked for comment on how they would ensure auditor’s performance and specifically willingness to move RMP holders from Step 6 to Step 7 would be monitored, was unable to detail specifics but claimed to be in “regular communication with the verifiers to align requirements and expectations”.
NZBI are not convinced.
“We have little confidence here, and NZBI will be looking to support beekeepers who want to appeal verification decisions, especially if those decisions involve pressure to buy AQ’s training,” Fletcher says.
Kos says, if applied as intended, the new rules provide “flexibility” for the almost 300 honey RMP holders sitting at Step 6.
“There are other RMP holders that are still going to need training though. You do have to have good training support and I would love to see more training providers. We need to be more active in looking for who they could be,” Kos says.
Apiculture New Zealand has approached a range of potential providers of that service.
“When I first went out to look a few years ago, there wasn’t much interest. So, perhaps industry needs to be more responsible for its own training. With anything, you need funding, dedicated people to do that. Other sectors, with levies, have training components.”
On a positive note, there has been collaboration between the two industry bodies, ApiNZ and NZBI, to achieve change for the better for beekeepers.
“I enjoyed working with their team and I hope they enjoyed working with our team,” Kos says.
With the industry groups first flagging concern at the RMP rules as far back as 2019, MPI’s move to change has been glacierlike slow – too slow Kos says. She hopes the two industry bodies have proven themselves to MPI and future rules can be enacted more swiftly.
“Together we have a lot of expertise at our fingertips, but we need to be more deliberate about how we push through what we need. If MPI have things coming up – and there are potential changes to the honey E-certification process – then the design and testing of all of that is where collaboration really makes sense.”