PKE fungi story short on facts long on hysteria

August 31, 2009

Disclosing a preliminary draft report on the danger of fungi in palm kernel extract (PKE)  as Sue Kedgley did in parliament was reckless and irresponsible, Federated Farmers says.

“Releasing a preliminary draft report, which has never been finalised, peer reviewed or subjected to robust scientific methodology is irresponsible,” says Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson.

“Palm Kernel Expeller is a dry feed and like any dry matter, if it gets wet, it will attract fungi.  That’s the same with maize, silage, bread or even sportswear. 

“AgResearch put together a draft report on the ‘shocking expose’ that Palm Kernel Expeller, when wet, attracts fungi. . . 

“The Ministry of Agriculture reviewed the report in 2006 and found that of the fungi identified, the vast majority were already present in New Zealand and the few remaining were common in almost every country on earth.

“The New Zealand Food Safety Authority looked at the general issue of fungal growth on animal feed and concluded there was no risk to food safety.”

He said he’s concerned that the Green Party grabs every opportunity, no matter how tenuous, to knock New Zealand’s largest and most important industry.

“Most people don’t believe the recycling of a waste by-product like Palm Kernel Expeller into animal feed is a bad thing, so long as it comes from certified sources.  Especially if that waste would otherwise be burnt or just left to rot.

“Most New Zealanders also believe it’s hypocritical to target farmers, when they themselves use palm oil daily in the household goods they consume or the cosmetics they wear.

“I’d be highly surprised if products containing palm oil were not present in the homes of the Green Party MPs.  That said, this serves as a timely reminder to ensure dry feed is stored appropriately,” Mr McKenzie concluded.

Feds biosecurity spokesman John Hartnell responded earlier to criticism on the use of PKE as cow feed by Greenpeace saying PKE was a waste by-product left over from the processing of palm oil for consumer products.

“Palm kernel has so little commercial value that if it isn’t recycled into supplementary feed, it is burnt.  That doesn’t sound too great for either climate change or the environment. . .

“Palm plantations aren’t created just to generate a waste by-product, just as newspapers don’t exist solely to support recycling. . .

He said there was a genuine problem with PKE which Feds had been concerned about.

“”Yet for a long period of time, Federated Farmers has been questioning the biosecurity risks posed by what seems to be a great amount of uncertified palm kernel entering New Zealand.  There’s a huge biosecurity hole posed by the stuff.”

That risk is not the risk of fungi mentioned in the preliminary draft report.


Cheesemakers may be allowed to keep the bugs

May 23, 2009

The Chesdale Cheese featured in the previous post is at one end of the gastronomic spectrum.

New Zealand also has some very fine examples from the gorumet end, produced by boutique cheese makers such as Whitestone and Blue River.

However, cheese aficionados claim that these cheeses lack the x factor because they have to be made from pasteurised milk and the pasteurisation process which kills the bad bugs also kills the good bacteria which produce the finest flavour.

This may be about to change.

The Food Safety Authority  has mooted a change to allow some cheeses to be produced from unpasteurised milk.

NZFSA’s technical standards and systems assistant director Scott Crerar says under current food regulations, only a small range of unpasteurised milk products are imported and sold. The proposed rules released today for discussion would allow the production, sale, export and import of unpasteurised milk products that have an acceptable bacterial safety level.

“Many local manufacturers support the plan to address inconsistencies in the law that allow some raw milk cheeses made overseas to be imported whilst domestic manufacturers may not make their own equivalent products,” Scott says. “There is also support for the system from consumers who relish the thought of being able to enjoy a wider range of these products.”

. . . The proposed framework recognises some unpasteurised milk products can be produced so they pose a low food safety risk to the general population. However, vulnerable consumers – such as babies and toddlers under three, the frail elderly, expectant mothers and people with weakened immune systems – need to avoid eating them. The proposals include strategies to manage risks for vulnerable consumers by making them aware unpasteurised milk products can pose a higher risk than traditional pasteurised products.

The cheese group which poses no more health risk than pasteurised cheese, including extra-hard grating Parmesan-style raw milk cheeses, can be produced under existing dairy requirements.

The group which includes Roquefort, don’t pose much risk to the general population so could be produced with awhat they call a strategy to manage the risk to vulnerable people and we’d call warnings.

 A third group cannot currently be produced to an acceptable level of safety for the general population so will not be allowed to be produced in New Zealand, or imported.

Products able to be made under the proposed system would have special physical or chemical characteristics and/or be subjected to processing techniques that mean any surviving bacteria would be at safe levels.

The FSA plans to hold workshops in June to outline the proposals and they’ve got a discussion paper with more details.

One concern is that any  problems with gourmet cheese could impact on the reputation of our dairy produce in general and threaten exports markets.

But if other countries manage to produce cheese with unpastuerised milk without endangering their citizens, we ought to be able to find a way to do it here.


Melamine map

October 1, 2008

Our competitiors will love this:

Map

New Zealand is in purple, denoting that melamine has been found in products here. It doesn’t explain that it was in minute quantities: New Zealand Food Safety Authority Dr Geoff Allen said:

“Without exception, all results fall below the safety threshold set by NZFSA, and also fall below any safety limits set by other food safety regulators around the world including US and EU,” he said.

NZFSA has set a 1ppm limit on melamine in infant formula, a 2.5ppm limit on melamine in foods on shop shelves, and a 5ppm limit on foods which might be used as ingredients.

“From all 116 tests there is clearly no indication of any deliberate adulteration,” he said. “Based on results to date we are confident that all New Zealand dairy products are fully compliant.”

Tatua chief executive Paul McGilvary told NZPA though the NZFSA, and major multinational food companies including Nestle and Heinz have argued that low-level melamine contamination does not pose a health risk, the Chinese dairy scandal involving Fonterra’s joint venture Sanlu has triggered consumer sensitivities around the world.

Global markets had been sensitised to melamine contamination, and consumer perceptions were important even where contamination levels were so low they did not present a health risk, he said.

Emotion and perception will beat the facts in food safety and our competitors will be very keen to use this to their advantage if they can.


Melamine confirmed in Tatua lactoferrin

September 29, 2008

Tuatua Cooperative Dairy Company has suspended exports of lactoferrin while it determines how traces of melamine got in to it.

A Chinese customer told Tatua’s agent two weeks ago that melamine had been detected in its product in China.

Further tests were done in both in China and New Zealand, and results on September 22 and 23 confirmed contamination at less than four parts per million.

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA), inspected the factory on September 24.

Tatua chief executive Paul McGilvary told NZPA today the company’s own investigation detected no melamine in its raw milk.

The company is now working with the NZ Food Safety Authority on a traceback project to determine where the melamine came from.

The traceback was expected to canvass whether the melamine was introduced to the raw milk, either by farmers using insecticides containing cyromazine, an insecticide which breaks down to melamine in mammals and plants, or feeding dairy cows cheap imported feeds such as palm kernel contaminated with cyromazine or its metabolite, melamine.

This is serious, and Tuatua has done the right thing in suspending exports and working with the NZFSA to find out where the melamine came from.

But the risk at the moment is more in the perception than reality and as I said in a post on this issue  on Saturday it’s important to keep it all in perspective.

The poisoned milk scandal has raised awareness of what might be in the food we’re eating which is good, but we need to be careful about causing needless hysteria over “contamination” of food by elements in tiny amounts which won’t cause any harm.

Inquiring Mind  rightly points out the need for oversight of all stages of the supply chain as a result of this.

No Minister  regards this as seriously serious.


Standards more important than price

September 18, 2008

Medsafe is considering banning a commonly used antibiotic.

The United States Food and Drug Administration yesterday banned imports of two formulations of amoxicillin syrup and several other drugs made at two plants in India, owned by the company Ranbaxy, because of unresolved concerns from an audit in March. It has not banned sales of existing stocks in the US.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health’s chief adviser on public health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said this afternoon that it had begun the process to ban imports of the drugs. But it would not make a decision on whether to proceed with a ban until considering further information, such as the results of any more recent audits done by other countries’ medicines regulators.

There was no evidence that the drugs had caused any harm or were ineffective.

Would you wait for evidence before you opted not to use it? Given what’s been happening with the poisoned milk in China I wouldn’t.

And there is a bigger issue here – how safe is other food or medicine from these places?

There are huge opportunities in these rapidly developing and populous countries which include the ability to manufacture at a much lower cost than is possible here.

But that’s false economy if quality and safety can’t be guaranteed; and any health risk is too high a price to pay for cheaper food or medicine.

Update: The New Zealand Food Safety Authority  says small amounts of Chinese milk products have been imported recently but the risk of poisoning is miniscule.


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