Answering the Ws

One of the first lessons I learned at journalism school was the importance of making sure a news story answered all the Ws – who, what, where, why and how.

It’s a rule which applies to public relations too and one which Fonterra failed to follow in its releases over the contaminated whey.

There is a sad irony in this saga – the reason the contamination has been found is that Fonterra has such  a strict food safety regime. It’s probably the strictest in the world.

That means that sometimes it will find something other companies would not.

But knowing that, the company should be prepared to alert the public with absolutely all the information it needs.

One obvious question the company should have answered in its first release was: why there was such a long time between the contamination occurring, its detection and the public announcement?

As suppliers we are subject to strict rules about shed hygiene and every tanker of milk which leaves every farm is tested.

If the milk contains penicillin, colostrum or anything else it shouldn’t, it’s graded and there are financial penalties for those grades.

Fonterra has similarly strict regimes for each step of its processing and distribution.

The media release should have explained all that including how and when the contamination was found and what consumers who had any concerns should do.

Knowledge is power, consumers here didn’t have enough knowledge and were consequently powerless until the Ministry of Primary Industries issued a warning about a specific brand of infant formula several hours after Fonterra’s first release.

The Chinese have stopped the importation of all New Zealand milk powders from Australia and here, a move Trade Minister Tim Groser describes as absolutely appropriate:

“It’s better to do blanket protection for your people and then wind it back when we, our authorities, are in a position to give them the confidence and advice that they need before doing that,” he said. . .

If the Chinese have a word for schadenfreude, they could be excused for feeling it.

Our reputation for food safety has always been high and China’s has not.

That reputation is under threat and the way Fonterra has handled the issue hasn’t helped.

This isn’t just about whey and the products it’s been used in. It isn’t just about Fonterra.

This issue is about trust in our food and food safety and our biggest company has put that at risk.

32 Responses to Answering the Ws

  1. robertguyton says:

    You are not happy, Ele and rightly so. The slow-motion release of facts in any serious situation has consequences when the public recognise what is being done to them. The Fonterra slugishness over this issue, as it was with the DCD alert, is mirrored in, say, the Andrea Vance/Parliamentary Services/Prime Minister, where key information is kept back for reasons that suit those who wish to protect something, rather than being made available to us, the public. After a while, that wears thin with the public, who recognise that they are being drip-fed or not fed, the real stories. We get fed up with that and call for change.

  2. Quintin Hogg says:

    Can’t help dragging politics into this can you Robert?

  3. robertguyton says:

    Nope. Ele’s blog has politics throughout. That stuff is everywhere and the parallels here are significant. Open Government, eh! If only. Key promised openness, but completely failed to deliver. His behaviour now is veiled, furtive and misleading.
    That’s not what we want.

  4. willdwan says:

    I get your drift. It’s all John Key’s fault.

  5. Quintin Hogg says:

    I didn’t realise Mr Key was the big boss at Fonterra Robert.

  6. homepaddock says:

    The piece-meal release of information on the emails was because it came from parliamentary services and/or the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet both of which are separate from and independent of the PM’s office.

    That is a separate issue and completely different from Fonterra’s shortcomings over the contaminated whey.

  7. Richard says:

    RG – off topic

  8. […] Update 2:  Good post by Homepaddock on this. […]

  9. Gravedodger says:

    Dont worry people, Viv K will give Robert the sharp end of her tounge for being disengenuous, perhaps not.

    The Greens are on the cusp of an historic victory, therefore we who see them for what they really are must not even attempt sarcasm or any other disrespectful comment.

    Of course it is John Key’s fault, he should have had Bronny clean those pipes before she warmed ‘his’ milk.

    It all occurred 15 months ago, was only discovered in subsequent testing by Fonterra and is limited to downstream product creation of products of some 7/8 other companies using the possibility contaminated whey product in manufacture of their products.

    Their products afaik have not revealed any health issues downstream in that 15 months but it is an opportunity to create a political moment that is all too rare in the attempts to bring John Key down as he is the major political problem for the socialists.

    The organism we are discussing does not manifest until it has had time to develop in an environment devoid of oxygen over time.

    I am in no way diminishing the potential for a disastrous hit on New Zealands trade, and perception as a safe food producer.
    What I do call for is some rational assessment of what is actually involved here and perhaps see some of the positives that are and will continue to be revealed.

    Was it Rumsfield who said “we do not know what we do not know ” so of course there will be a perception of slow response to any given problem.

    What was to be gained from an over reaction from Fonterra while they assessed the 4 ws other than an opportunity to perhaps create some problems for the dirty dairy, big business, energy consuming giant that has sustained NZ Inc for the last 15 years.

    For the melons and the shallow MSM it has the appearance of a mother lode about it.

  10. jabba says:

    Robert H Guyton strikes yet again .. I mentioned the E coli found in ORGANIC sprouts in Germany in relation to this Fonterra problem yesterday .. RHG ATTACKED me over raising it and here we are a day later and he is spinning like a top yet again. RHG is a do as I say not as I do person.
    Dozens of people died after eating the sprouts and as yet, there have been no reports of illness let alone deaths here.

  11. TraceyS says:

    “That’s not what we want.”

    “We get fed up with that and call for change.”

    Not using this as an opportunity to score points are WE Robert?

  12. TraceyS says:

    I’ve got a strong feeling that Robert’s usual dietary advice to Mums would be: Eat organic food! And breastfeed your baby!

  13. Armchair Critic says:

    Ah, the raucous barking of Pavlov’s dogs when the dreaded Robert Guyton comments.
    On the topic of his comment being off topic:
    This is a political blog (unless the “blue tint” refers to depression, or the police, or a style of music, I must have missed those posts) so it is reasonable to expect both posts and comments to have political content.
    A range of government ministers are involved in the matter, making this a political post and thereby open to political comment.
    On the subject of the comment being disingenuous:
    The comment draws a parallel between the behaviour of some of the parties involved, implicitly asking why Ele treats the two quite separate situations differently despite the similarities. It suggests that neither situation is acceptable. What’s disingenuous is the inability of any commenter to address the first comment on its merits.
    On brussel sprouts:
    Toughen up jabba.
    On the substance of the first comment:
    There are some similarities in the approaches taken, however it is probably not due to a causative link or relationship between the government and Fonterra. This has the potential to seriously affect relationships between NZ and its trading partners, so it is imperative that the government does an excellent job of their part of the damage control.

  14. TraceyS says:

    AC, your friend Robert frequently calls commenters out for conflating issues. Exactly what he has done here. He gracelessly reveals himself in so doing and does not deserve your defence.

  15. Armchair Critic says:

    You regularly remind commenters to read your comments carefully and completely, and often you suggest that commenters have not understood your comments. I recommend that you take you take your own advice with regard to Robert’s initial comment.
    Regarding the substance of your comment, Robert has noted patterns of behaviour and noted that they are the same. This falls a step short of conflating the two and does not constitute the government being blamed for a dirty pipe in Waharoa (or wherever), as much as some commenters would like to imagine it does.
    There are numerous ways the government could stuff this up and it is well within their meagre capabilities to do so. But they haven’t. Yet.

  16. robertguyton says:

    Oh, you guys! Don’t be duffers. You’ve gone off half-cocked and read each others comments, overlooking mine altogether, AC excepted. His ability to read for meaning is very encouraging and a great model for others. Viv’s got the ability too. It’s great that they bother to visit.

  17. robertguyton says:

    Some intelligent comments (and an equally intelligent question) for GraveDodger:

    “There are two glaring gaps in the timeline (a) the gap between the botulism-inducing incident and its detection and (b) the delay in notifying the government and most importantly, the New Zealand public who are/were left at risk during that time. Was this delay in notifying anyone else being influenced by Fonterra’s desire not to compound the controversy and delays in getting $100 million in export shipments off the wharves in China – an incident that also came to the boil in May? This scandal looks like getting far worse before it gets any better.”

    Gordon Campbell

  18. robertguyton says:

    Ele – your thoughts on this claim?

    ¨ Colonial Viper 9.1.1
    5 August 2013 at 1:08 pm

    So had Fonterra done a recall in March, product would not have even hit the Consumer shelves (for the NZ customer)…I wonder why this didn’t happen.

    It would have spooked investors in Fonterra’s share offer this year, and potentially cost them a hundred million dollars.

    From the timing, it appears that Fonterra decided to prioritise obtaining maximum money from investors, ahead of making a consumer safety announcement which may have put investors off buying shares.

    This thing is going to bite them in the ass big time.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10886441

  19. Dave Kennedy says:

    I am hoping that this will be a wake up call for an evaluation of our whole agricultural sector. We are reliant on our clean green brand and having food safety standards amongst the best in the world and we may not withstand close scrutiny. This is a bigger issue than just Fonterra being a bit slow off the mark in this situation.

    We are very vulnerable in more ways than one:
    http://localbodies-bsprout.blogspot.co.nz/2013/08/important-lessons-as-fonterra-falters.html

  20. TraceyS says:

    “…does not constitute the government being blamed for a dirty pipe in Waharoa…”

    Read my comments again AC. I did not suggest this did I? Were you conflating my comments with others? Surely not! Perhaps you should read my comments better AC.

    The corresponding parts of the issues Robert was conflating were to do with informing the public. I read perfectly we’ll and understood every word he said. Robert’s rambling is the least challenging of text that I encounter on a daily basis.

    Because I don’t know Robert personally and know only what his blog portrays of his personality, I read his comments consistent with the online context he has created himself. This is a perfectly fair approach to seeking understanding and I’ll make no apologies for seeing Robert in the light he shines upon himself.

    I’ll say it again, he does not deserve your defense.

  21. TraceyS says:

    *defence*

  22. Armchair Critic says:

    Read my comments again AC.
    No need.
    I did not suggest this did I? Were you conflating my comments with others?
    No, and if you’d been less selective in your quoting it would be obvious to even the dullest readers. Hint – if I’d meant you specifically, Tracey S, I’d have said “you”, instead of “…some commenters…”T
    I do wonder whether you mean “confusing”, where you write “conflating” in the quote above.
    Perhaps you should read my comments better AC.
    Yawn. Next.
    The corresponding parts of the issues Robert was conflating were to do with informing the public.
    Oh, right. As I read them, they were to do with failing to inform the public, which is pretty much the opposite of what you’ve said. I read perfectly we’ll and understood every word he said.
    Since only one of us can be correct, perhaps Robert can advise which one of us interpreted it correctly. And since he has taught languages, he might be able to advise on the correct us of apostrophes too.
    Robert’s rambling is the least challenging of text that I encounter on a daily basis.
    It pleases me no end that you live several hours drive away.
    Because I don’t know Robert personally and know only what his blog portrays of his personality, I read his comments consistent with the online context he has created himself. This is a perfectly fair approach to seeking understanding and I’ll make no apologies for seeing Robert in the light he shines upon himself.
    Blogs are a terrible way of understanding other people. From the limited number of bloggers I have met I’d say that only the most straight-forward of them can be even partially understood by reading their blog.
    I’ll say it again, he does not deserve your defense.
    It’s my turn – Viv K is busy today (HT gravedodger) and the VLWC have allocated me the task of defending Robert 😉
    The idea that we get what we deserve is at best occasionally true.

  23. TraceyS says:

    Regarding apostrophes: Wasn’t Robert a Māori teacher? Māori language uses apostrophes?

    Regarding blogs: On the contrary, these say a lot about people. A representative of the people should work hard to ensure that their blog is reflective of their true self. Otherwise people could be misled.

    Regarding the rest: Splitting hairs and pettiness not worth commenting on.

  24. homepaddock says:

    I don’t think a recall then as a precaution with a full explanation of why it was being done would have done any harm at all at taht stage. All production is at risk of human error and/or systems failure (which this might or night not have been). If customers and potential shareholders have confidence over how it’s handled they’ll keep trust in the company.

  25. robertguyton says:

    Tracey. Read my comments again.
    AC is correct. You have missed my meaning and I suspect your prejudice caused your eye to be misted. No need to apostrophe for that. Of course John Key didn’t dirty that pipe, he’s been far to busy pressing his eye to our keyholes.
    Māori teachers don’t use apostrophes, you claim? Preposterous! Māori teachers use whatever punctuation they choose, I’m quite sure, just as Pakeha teachers do. Teachers of Māori language however, probably won’t use them when writing in te reo Māori. As a teacher of science, I used them freely. As teacher of English, I used them willy-nilly. As teacher of mathematics, I used them rarely. As teacher of physical education, not so much. In my music classes, never.

  26. TraceyS says:

    That’s good Robert, now I trust we will see a marked improvement next term in your punctuation, grammar and spelling. Reading comprehension will need to be re-tested. You have missed the distinction between Māori language and Māori teachers. You can do better!

  27. jabba says:

    apart from organic sprouts that killed dozens of people in Europe

  28. Of course John Key didn’t dirty that pipe, he’s been far to busy pressing his eye to our keyholes.

    Do you actually believe the stuff you write Robert, or are you just being “mischevious”, as you once described yourself?

  29. Andrei says:

    Chill buddy – you have to admit that is a fairly witty line

  30. Armchair Critic says:

    Wasn’t Robert a Māori teacher?
    I think so. He is also quite familiar with English.
    On the contrary […] worth commenting on.

  31. Armchair Critic says:

    I’ll say it again, he does not deserve your defense.
    Having had a few days to reflect on this suggestion, I’ve come to the conclusion that you’d have been closer to the mark saying “…he does not need your defence.”

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