The announcement that traces of DCD have been found in milk is concerning but the way it has been handled is exemplary.
There is no food safety risk but the two fertiliser companies which use products with DCD have immediately suspended sales.
This media release from Ravensdown explains the issue:
Ravensdown announces today that, with immediate effect, it is suspending the sales and application of its eco-n product which contains DCD.
“The reputation of New Zealand as a quality food producer is as important to us as it is to our farmer owners. So it is reassuring that both the MPI’s and our own peer-reviewed research shows there are no food safety issues with DCD or eco-n,” comments Greg Campbell Ravensdown Chief Executive. “What’s changed is that last year, organisations like the US Food and Drug Administration added DCD to a list of substances to test for. This, combined with increasingly sophisticated scanning technology now presents a possible trade risk. Given the risk to NZ’s dairy export reputation, Ravensdown has taken the initiative and is suspending the single product which uses DCD for this calendar year.”
“As DCD has been used safely around the world for 30 years, there has never been a set of international standards around maximum residue level in food products. Because no standard exists for DCD, no detectable presence is acceptable. And because zero detection of DCD cannot be guaranteed, Ravensdown has taken the responsible, voluntary step to suspend its use while the trade issues are resolved,” added Greg.
In December last year, the Ministry for Primary Industries initiated a working party to assess the use of dicyandiamide (DCD) on farm land. The working group comprises representatives from MPI, Fonterra, the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand and fertiliser companies Ravensdown and Ballance.
The working group was set up after testing on whole milk powder detected the occasional presence of low levels of DCD coinciding with the times of the year that the product is applied.
DCD, which is applied to pasture in autumn, winter and spring, has been used to reduce nitrate leaching and greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand for nearly a decade.
“Though this news is disappointing for the 500 customers who use eco-n, the potential risk demanded decisive and pre-emptive action ahead of the autumn application season,” said Ravensdown’s Greg Campbell.
Even without eco-n, Ravensdown continues to help farmers lift their production and lower their environmental footprint. The farmer-owned co-operative does this through whole-farm testing, nutrient management planning and advice plus precise fertiliser application.
“We continue to help farmers produce top quality food and do all we can to support New Zealand’s export story in a complex world of international trading partners and regulations. We’ll be foregoing sales of eco-n, which makes up about 1% of Ravensdown’s annual revenues, but we are a 100% farmer-owned co-operative concerned with the long-term future of the rural sector,” added Greg Campbell.
“In the long-term, mitigating nitrate leaching is vital for sustainable New Zealand farming. The effectiveness of nitrification inhibitors like DCD is well proven and helps farmers in the face of stricter requirements being imposed on them. So we’ll be looking to the Ministry for Primary Industries through the working party to initiate the potentially-lengthy process of seeking a new international standard to recognise DCD. This would then specify a level or maximum residue which New Zealand dairy exporters and producers could work below,” concluded Greg.
Ballance’s media release says more research is the key:
More research is the key to developing nitrification inhibitors which help farmers reduce environmental impacts while meeting potential international trade requirements, Ballance Agri-Nutrients Research and Development Manager Warwick Catto said today.
His comments follow the voluntary suspension of sales and application of the nitrification inhibitor dicyandiamide (DCD) on farmland in response to the detection of the occasional presence of low levels of DCD in dairy products. Both major fertiliser co-operatives have announced the suspension until further notice.
“We still have every confidence in the potential for nitrification inhibitors to play an important role in helping New Zealand farmers to operate within nutrient loss limits.
“While our nitrification inhibitor product DCn has been a small part of our portfolio we remain confident that continued research will result in the development of a nitrification inhibitor solution which delivers environmental benefits, meets international requirements and is supported by robust science.”
Mr Catto said Ballance had not sold DCn since July 2012 and had not promoted its use on pastures since late 2010. This means that only a handful of Ballance customers have recently used the product. As a precautionary measure Ballance will not reintroduce any DCD-based products to the market until the potential international trade issue of milk residues is mitigated.
Ballance ceased sales of DCn in early spring 2012 to review the product and its applications, and incorporated it into its $32 million research and development programme aimed at reducing nutrient and greenhouse gas losses through more efficient fertilisers and next generation nitrification inhibitors.
“This is in line with our science-based approach and emphasis on continual evolution of our product and service offerings to meet the needs of New Zealand farmers.
“Our research is partially funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries through their Primary Growth Partnership and our work on nitrification inhibitor developments will take into account potential international trade concerns regarding residues in milk products,” says Mr Catto.
Mr Catto says that Ballance strongly supports all moves to protect New Zealand’s reputation for quality food and believes that all products used in food production must be backed by sound science and ongoing research.
“We have been assured by New Zealand’s regulatory authority – the Ministry for Primary Industries – that there is no food safety risk. However, DCD residues in agricultural products may present a future trade issue,” said Managing Director Co-operative Affairs Todd Muller.
“Although DCD was a promising option for reducing nitrate leaching, it is critical that New Zealand’s trade reputation is preserved. The voluntary suspension is the responsible approach in the absence of any internationally agreed standards for DCD residues in food,” said Mr Muller.
Fonterra will participate in a working group set up by the Ministry for Primary Industries to examine what the suspension means in terms of the future use of DCD in farming, including the impact on water quality requirements.
Not all countries have the strict regulatory and testing standards for food safety that New Zealand does.
Some countries that do test food might hide results that didn’t suit them.
The companies have acted correctly in promptly suspending sales of products with DCD.
It’s about trust.
New Zealand relies on our reputation for high standards of food safety and that reputation relies on trusting that everything possible is done to keep food safe and taking a precautionary approach, even as in this case, there is no risk to consumers.
Products with DCD, a nitrification inhibitor, have been applied with fetiliser to pasture and forage crops to target urine, dung and fertiliser emissions. They can improve water quality, reduce production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide and increase pasture growth.