Trade Minister Tim Groser has criticised the resourcing of the Ministry of Primary Industries at a meeting in Auckland.
The Government restructured the ministry in 2011 and 2012, axing more than 200 positions, to save $18 million.
Mr Groser made his comments on Wednesday at the China Business Summit which was discussing ways to boost trade with China.
He said the ministry is under-resourced and was unable to respond effectively to the recent Fonterra botulism scare and other food safety crises.
"Clearly, we did not have enough resources in MPI and, I know this is a little bit unusual, but whenever I've raised this issue the response is, 'Well, this is an operational matter minister, don't worry your little head about it'."
"And I've been saying this for a long time in private and now there's no place to hide."
Mr Groser said MPI did not have sufficient staffing, nor did it have a satisfactory communications strategy.
The minister told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme that the ministry did not have enough resources to cope with expanding trade in Asia. He said the Government is now taking steps to address the issue by sending more staff to China.
Finance Minister Bill English said he doesn't believe anything could have made the Fonterra botulism scare easier to deal with as it was a difficult issue.
Mr English said there is a good understanding of the importance of food safety issues.