Cultural importance behind decision not to restrict kava use in NZ, as Australia tightens rules urgently

PHOTO: Fiji Kava

A Pacific kava expert has praised the government for not restricting its use, despite the Australian government urgently tightening their rules.

Last year, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) agreed to amend the status of kava in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, that would effectively ban takeaway kava and tighten existing regulations on how its prepared.

It came into effect immediately in Australia, but New Zealand held off as the code didn’t consider kava’s cultural importance to the Pasifika community.

Australia then conducted a 12-month review to determine if further changes were needed, or if amendments should be reaffirmed, or revoked.

The Australian government decided to keep the changes in March, while the New Zealand government here confirmed it would not, with respect to the cultural use of kava.

The University of Waikato’s Dr Apo Aporosa said he was pleased, as a Pacific person living in Aotearoa, that the government recognised kava’s cultural significance.

“Their consideration included recognition of kava’s cultural importance to Pacific peoples as part of cultural practice and relational connection together with kava use safety, continuing to classify kava as a ‘food’ under the Food Safety Standards,” he said.

Aporosa said it also meant the government stood by its commitment as a signatory to the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in recognising the culture and practices of Pacific peoples in Aotearoa.

He said the government’s decision also considered the increased use of kava by Māori, as part of their pre-migration culture.

“This also supports and encourages Māori’s use of kava as an alternative to alcohol. We know that kava does not cause 99 percent of the health and socio-cultural impacts caused by alcohol.

“This is also why it’s important that Pacific people be given unfettered access to kava we seek to limit alcohol harm in our community.”

Aporosa, who’s also advised the Australian government on kava safety since 2008, said it was sad that Pacific families across the Tasman were not considered when changes were made.

“This has imposed additional barriers to kava access in Australia.

“Additionally, those barriers in Australia continue to prevent me from posting kava to my family or friends over there. However, I can post a box of Jack Daniel’s.

”Go figure, particularly when you consider the disproportionate level of harm caused by alcohol, when compared with kava.”

Deputy director general of the Ministry for Primary Industries Vincent Arbuke said last year’s amendments were made under an urgent proposal, which was not the usual process for changes to standards.

Arbuckle said under the FSANZ Act, urgent proposals were reserved for matters that were an urgent public health risk.

“The proposal meant that New Zealand’s Pasifika community did not have the sufficient opportunity to engage in the matter of significant cultural importance,” he said. Food Safety Minister Meka Whatiri said kava was a culturally significant beverage for the Pasifika community, and the ammendments would not be adopted in New Zealand on cultural grounds.