The ODT editorial sums up the issue of Fonterra’s handling of the poisoned milk in China:
Quality control where food products are concerned is simply unarguable and the damage done for the lack of it to Fonterra’s good name by this tragic event suggests the company needs to have taken, and to continue to take, a great deal more direct interest in such partnerships.
Fonterra CEO Andrew Ferrier is right that the poisoning was sabotage and that the problem spread far wider than his company. But there were concerns about Chinese food safety standards so Fonterra should have been far more cautious and rigorous about quality control with Sanlu in which it has a 43% stake.
If it couldn’t have prevented the problem it should have gone public far sooner after it was recognised. If they weren’t able to do that in China they could have done it here so that in spite of the repressive controls on media there the word would have got out.
Public health ought to have been their first priority and if they hadn’t wanted to risk business relationships in China by doing it openly they could have done it quietly then put the blame on our media. But they should have done it as soon as possible after concerns were raised.
Whether that would have saved any babies’ lives and lessened the severity of or prevented illness in others is a moot point. But there would have been no hesitation about a public recall of contaminated infant milk formula here and there shouldn’t have been there.
The only way Fonterra, or any other New Zealand company which goes in to business overseas, can safeguard its reputation, is to ensure that it has the same safety standards and concern for public health there as it does here.