Word of the day

August 6, 2013

Absquatulate – leave or depart abruptly, abscond; flee; make off with something or someone.


Rural round up

August 6, 2013

Westland Milk Products tests clear for clostridium:

Westland Milk Products confirmed today that it has not used any of the whey protein concentrate from Fonterra that has tested positive for clostridium bacteria.

Chief Executive Rod Quin says that Westland’s nutritional formulations use whey protein ingredients purchased from local and international suppliers, but these have not included any affected Fonterra whey protein concentrate.

“We test all the ingredients we buy in and all have returned “not detected” results for clostridium in the last 12 months. Testing of our own products and processes, including whey concentrate, has also returned negative results.” . .

Fork futures – Peter K. Dearden:

It is hard to avoid the news that last night, a beef burger grown in the lab was consumed by a number of people. The idea was that meat, grown in dishes in the lab, could replace meat grown in animals; last night was a demonstration of the principle.

The beef burger in question was grown from muscle stem cells in plastic dishes, the cells collected and squished together to make a meat-like substance. Consumers of the burger made statements such as “lacked flavor” and “needed some fat”, not exactly a glowing endorsement, but perhaps no worse than most folk’s opinion of the ‘mechanically recovered meat’ often lurking in such burgers.

The cost of this burger has been reported as 250,000 Euros ($425,000 NZ dollars), proving conclusively that growing meat in animals is still cheaper and more efficient.  As an aside, most cell culture experiments use animal serum to help grow the cells, meaning this approach is not animal-free. But is this more than just a publicity stunt; are there implications for New Zealand? . . .

Fruit and veg growers recognised for pioneering work:

Mangere fruit and vege growers Fay and Joe Gock have been recognised for their pioneering work, as this year’s winners of the Bledisloe Cup, the industry’s highest honour.

The couple both in their 80s, have come up with numerous innovations in horticulture over six decades of commercial fruit and vegetable growing,

They include being the first first to raise kumara tubers by using under-earth heating in modern hotbeds.

They developed a disease-free kumara strain and with DSIR, a prototype kumara curing shed, reducing crop loss from 50 percent to less than one percent, allowing kumara to be marketed all year round. . .

Former town relocation site placed on the market for sale:

The swathe of bare land once identified as the relocation site for the hydro’ dam township of Twizel has been placed on the market for sale.

The 19.3 hectare site at Lake Pukaki in South Canterbury is the only land within the Mackenzie District Plan with zoning allowing for residential subdivision and commercial business operations.

The land – which overlooks Lake Pukaki and State Highway 8 – is some 14 kilometres north of Twizel, and is being marketed for sale by auction on September 5. . .

Spray season begins for kiwifruit growers:

The spray season for kiwifruit growers is starting, and Bay of Plenty Regional Council is working with the industry to ensure spray drift problems are reduced this year.

Hydrogen Cyanamide, known as Hi-Cane, is sprayed on kiwifruit vines to promote more and larger fruit on the vines, promote bud break, ensure earlier and shorter flowering, and more flowers with fewer double and triple flowers which reduce fruit size.

In recent years the Bay of Plenty Spray Focus Group, which includes representatives of kiwifruit marketers Zespri, NZ Kiwifruit Growers Inc, Kiwifruit Vine Health, the public and Regional Council staff have worked to reduce the effects of sprays on the community, using best practice spraying methods. . .

Southfuels/Northfuels sign three year deal with TeenAg:

New Zealand Young Farmers is pleased to welcome Southfuels/Northfuels as a sponsor of the TeenAg Competition series. Southfuels/Northfuels have signed on for a three year period with the secondary school section within the New Zealand Young Farmers family of brands.

TeenAg aims to introduce and promote a positive picture about agriculture and agricultural careers from an early age. This is achieved via a competition series and a network of High School clubs.

The TeenAg Competition series started in 2011 with resounding success and the programmes popularity continues to rise. The first High School club was established in 2009 and know there are 45 clubs dotted throughout the country. . .

How Farmers Can Reduce Nitrogen Losses and Leaching:

New Zealand’s global image as a clean and green country is continuing to come under fire and with it comes pressure from local governments on the management of our farm lands. Nitrogen fertiliser inputs and how they affect the environment is a very topical story at the moment and with increasing pressures including N based fertiliser restrictions, costs, droughts and production requirements, the farmer has some important decisions to make.

What decision makers on both sides need to agree on is that we need to deliver the highest increase in dry matter and milk production per unit of nitrogen applied the soil. By using a microbial based inoculant like EM we can enhance the nutrient uptake of the pasture thus increasing the growth of dry matter. This enables the farmer to decrease their nitrogen application while maintaining and sometimes exceeding previous pasture levels. . .

And from Grammarly:

This exists. It makes more sense than what the word actually means.


Oamaru looking sharp

August 6, 2013

Thanks to the thousands of people who voted for Oamaru as New Zealand’s sharpest town, Seven Sharp broadcast live from the historic precinct last night.


Food safety and integrity of exports priority

August 6, 2013

Federated Farmers dairy spokesman Willy Leferink says honesty is the only policy with food safety.

I think it’s worth reading in full but have highlighted the really important points:

Last Friday I sat down with my wife and planned our weekend. As we are about to be hit by that farming tsunami called calving, this picture of farming domesticity meant this past weekend was likely going to be my last of relative freedom until Boxing Day.

Then Federated Farmers communications team called me with the kind of bad news you don’t want early on a Saturday. A Fonterra media release indicated that in a batch of whey was the potential presence of a strain of Clostridium botulinum.

We need to remember that no one is sick and this recall stems from Fonterra’s product testing. If you want, Fonterra blew the whistle on Fonterra. Another thing we need to remember is that the volume involved is a fraction of the 2.5 million tonnes Fonterra produces each year. When I mean fraction, the 38 tonnes involved represents 0.0015 percent. But just as a miss is as good as a mile, the tolerance for C botulinum is rightly zero.

Yet this also means 2,499,962 tonnes of Fonterra produced product is unaffected. Getting that message out is vital in order to get our dairy products moving again.

As farmers like me own Fonterra, few people can comprehend how proud we are of what our cows, farms and company produce. You may see milk as a weekly staple but it takes an amazing amount of work to produce a quality product which has so many applications. The product in question, a whey protein concentrate known as WPC80, is used in products like infant formula, growing up milk powder, as a calf milk replacer and even in sports drinks.

Federated Farmers has talented people and our Food Safety spokesperson, Dr William Rolleston, is a sheep farming medical doctor and biotechnologist. Speaking to William, it seems Fonterra’s discovery of C botulinum is the laboratory equivalent of a needle in a haystack. I appreciate that is cold comfort right now.

Farms are the first link in the production chain because what we produce is collected and processed under strict sanitary standards. This is not lip service but an ingrained process starting well inside the farmgate. If there is any break in this pasture to plate chain then product does not go, or rather, that is how things are meant to work.

We are here because of that single unsanitary pipe at Fonterra’s Hautapu factory. There will be a reckoning but now is not the time; the ‘who, what, why, when, where and how’ questions come later. Right now we owe it to our consumers here and abroad to give them facts and not speculation. We owe it to them to communicate truthfully and in a format they will understand.

Contrary to popular opinion most of those bags of powder you may see in the news are produced to specification. Fonterra is directly plugged into major global supply chains and this is why being open and transparent counts. While the presence of C botulinum is serious, what we do next, matters. No matter how tough it may seem, being unambiguous, frank and accessible need to be guiding principles in how we communicate.

This started Friday at midnight when Fonterra blew the whistle on itself. Now the most urgent thing is to remove uncertainty in the wider market place.

That means identifying the products and companies involved in the recall. Of the eight customers, we welcome that Nutricia Karicare, Coca-Cola, Danone, Wahaha Healthfood as well as the local animal feed business, NZ AgBiz, have all stood up. Good on them. We must ensure that our consumers, wherever they are, have easy access to all the facts and in a format and language they understand. If you are a consumer and have concerns then please call the consumer number likely listed on the tin, bottle or container you are holding.

This is why communication channels must be kept open for the Ministry for Primary Industries as the regulator, Fonterra as the processor and the companies who used WPC80. Our only priority must be food safety and the integrity of what we export. Integrity is communicating facts openly and transparently and this is thankfully happening.

Fonterra’s PR team could learn from this voice of reason.

CEO Theo Spierings is right that human errors happen. The problem is the company doesn’t appear to have the communications strategy to deal with that.


From lab to plate

August 6, 2013

The world’s first in-vitro hamburger has been taste-tested:

Since 2008, Dr. Mark Post has been working on growing edible meat in a laboratory. Today, at an event in London, the first in-vitro hamburger has been served.

Muscle stem cells were taken from a cow’s shoulder in a gentle biopsy and grown in serum, with micro-exercise so they wouldn’t be flabby. 20,000 cells were then assembled into a burger, bound with bread crumbs and egg (but curiously no salt), colored with beet juice and saffron, and presented to the public. The event was also broadcast on Culturedbeef.net.

Dr. Post, a cardiovascular biologist from Maastricht University, brought his raw burger out, in a petri dish under a cloche. On a television set, chef Richard McGeown, opining that it looked a little paler than normal, cooked it in butter and oil before a hungry audience, then served it to two lucky volunteers: Austrian food futurist Hanni Rützler, and Josh Schonwald, author of The Taste of Tomorrow.

Hanni: “There is quite some intense taste. It is close to meat; it is not that juicy. I missed salt and pepper. More than I expected of the structure, it’s not falling apart.”

Josh: “The texture, the mouthfeel, has a feel like meat. The absence is the fat. It’s a leanness. But the bite feels like a conventional hamburger.”

The technology to grow fat cells is still lacking — Schonfeld characterized the texture as like “an animal protein cake” — but that is the next step for the team. “I think it’s a very good start,” said Dr. Post. “This was mostly to prove that we can make it.” . . .

It is at least a decade away from mass-production and price and taste will determine if it is commercially viable.

In a world short of protein it could have a market but I don’t think from lab to plate has quite the same appeal as from paddock to plate.


Our pain, their gain

August 6, 2013

When the Dutch student who is visiting us heard about the possible contamination of some of Fonterra’s whey, he said, “that could be good for Holland”.

He’s right, New Zealand’s pain could be other countries’ gain:

A top Kiwi milk powder manufacturer is warning the latest infant formula crisis will see western European competitors take advantage of New Zealand’s tarnished brand, and secure contracts in our key export markets.

The CEO of Peak Nutrition, Stephen Julian, says Holland and Germany are already well positioned to profit from New Zealand’s dairy issues and sign deals with some of our traditional export partners like China.

Julian says Holland currently exports around eight billion dollars in dairy products compared to New Zealand’s ten billion annually.

“If you look at the global players, the Dutch market has been hot on our heels for a long time, they are renowned for their dairy production and have much to gain from our latest dairy crisis and Germany isn’t far behind.

“China is a critical market for us and this is not the first time we’ve been embroiled in a dairy scandal, we know how particular the Chinese are about standards and this will impact heavily on our industry as a whole.”

Julian says while his milk powders are not affected by the crisis, as they are made using wet blend technology and are produced and packaged locally, he sympathises with Kiwi parents who are confused about what products are safe for them to purchase for their children.

Julian says it is these Kiwi mums and dads who have most to lose from the latest crisis and the loss will be two-fold.

“Not only are these parents faced with a situation where they are unsure of which formula is safe for their child, the on-going economic repercussions for the nation as a whole could be catastrophic,” he says.

“It is sad to see our global reputation as one of the most trusted dairy producers damaged once again in such a high profile way. We have to hope that this crisis does not affect the New Zealand brand so gravely that it impacts our other primary food producers.” . . .

Fonterra is a strong brand but New Zealand is even stronger and concerns over the whey contamination could impact not just on other dairy products but on any and all other food we produce.

News late yesterday that China hadn’t shut the door to all our dairy products gives some reassurance, but it’s not just officials and governments we have to convince about the safety of our food, it’s the consumers.

Producers in other countries will have sympathy for us but they will also be ready to step into any gaps in the market that are created by concerns over our produce.


Fonterra regrets . . .

August 6, 2013

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings has expressed regret at a Chinese media conference for consumer anxiety caused by revelations that batches of whey protein had been contaminated.

“We regret the distress and anxiety which this issue could have caused,” Mr Spierings says. “Parents have the right to know that infant nutrition and other products are safe.”

The head of the world’s biggest dairy exporter says Fonterra has three key priorities: public health and food safety; working quickly with customers and regulators to resolve the issue; and working with customers and regulators to take corrective action.

The company’s commitment to China “is very high” and there is a “very strong relationship not only of Fonterra but also the New Zealand government”. . .

The distress and anxiety wouldn’t have been quite so bad if the company had handled the media briefings better, giving as much information as possible from the start rather than drip-feeding it.

Shareholders have been getting regular emails from board chair John Wilson but it was only yesterday that we got this explanation:

  • It is now more than 48 hours since we announced the serious situation we have with three batches of affected whey protein concentrate WPC80.
  • We continue to focus 100% on the health and safety of the public, working closely with our customers and regulators, and being as transparent as possible in the information we provide.
  • Our customers who have been impacted and local regulators have begun making public announcements about products that have been affected.
  • This is good for us as initially we were unable to provide details of our impacted customers.  I’d like to explain to you why this was the case.
  • When we sell commercial ingredients, like the affected whey protein concentrate, to our customers, we do not have visibility of how and where they use them. We are, of course, aware of exactly where product is in every step of Fonterra’s own supply chain, but once it leaves us, it is no longer in our control.
  • This means we did not know what customer products the affected whey protein concentrate had been used in and where these products were. Announcing the names of our international food and beverage customers without this information, could have caused even more uncertainty for consumers. 

Telling us, and the public, all this at the start would have been much more helpful than just saying they couldn’t say which products might be affected.

Explaining the testing regime, what happened, how it happened and what’s been done to ensure it won’t happen again would also have helped.

The 38 tonnes possibly contaminated is a tiny amount in the grand scheme of Fonterra’s production. Northland dairy farmer Grant McCallum, interviewed by Jamie McKay on the Farming Show yesterday, asked why it hadn’t been kept aside from the start.

He pointed out that if farmers know there’s a problem with their milk, they have to put a red padlock on the vat and asked why the processor doesn’t do something similar.

Prime Minister John Key said Fonterra will come under the microscope once the dust has settled.

Ministers have launched an all-of-government approach to Fonterra’s discovery of a bacteria that can cause botulism in some of its whey protein concentrate, and will review Fonterra’s role once it has dealt with the food safety issues, which are its primary concern, Key told reporters at today at his weekly post-Cabinet press conference.

Fonterra “will need to answer some questions which we can’t detail for you today, but they will be around the length of time it took for all of us to know, it will be about the processes it went through from when it first identified there could be an issue to one that was one that was brought into the public domain, and to the general approach to these issues,” Key said.

A second review will be into how the monitoring systems work, and Key said his “top-line assessment is that the bureaucracy-side of this issue has performed extremely well over the last 48 hours.” . . .

Once the health concerns are allayed it is essential that all these questions are answered.

But there wouldn’t be as many questions to be answered if Fonterra had had a much better protocol in place for handling the issue – or at least the publicity around it.


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