Kava use protected in New Zealand


A Pacific kava expert has praised the New Zealand Government for its cultural understanding in choosing not to restrict kava use in this country.

Meanwhile, the Australian Government is urgently tightening its rules on kava use.

Last year, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) agreed to amend the status of kava in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

The amendment banned takeaway kava and tightened existing regulations on how it is prepared.

It came into effect immediately in Australia.

New Zealand held off, however as the Code didn’t consider kava’s cultural importance to the Pasifika community.

Australia then conducted a 12-month review of the Code. They were looking to see if further changes were needed, or if amendments should be reaffirmed or revoked.

In March, the Australian Government decided to keep the changes.

Kava’s cultural importance

The New Zealand Government has confirmed it will not keep the proposed changes, with respect to kava’s cultural use.

University of Waikato kava expert Dr Apo Aporosa is pleased.

As a Pacific person living in Aotearoa, the Government recognising kava’s cultural significance is important, he said.

“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. It showed this by recognising the culture and practices of Pacific peoples in Aotearoa.

Alcohol alternative

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

“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 has advised the Australian Government on kava safety since 2008.

It is sad that Pacific families across the Tasman were not considered when changes were made, he said.

“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 Arbuckle said last year’s amendments were made under an urgent proposal.

“This is not the usual process for changes to Standards,” he 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 sufficient opportunity to engage in a matter of significant cultural importance.”

Food Safety Minister Meka Whaitiri said kava was a culturally significant beverage for the Pasifika community. Therefore the amendments would not be adopted in New Zealand on cultural grounds.


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