Dairying & the environment


Phillipa Stevenson left a comment on last week’s post about the proposed dairy development  in the Mackenzie Basin.

In case you didn’t see it, she’s taking part in a panel discussion on dairying and the environment on National Radio at 7.15 this evening:

You can take part too by emailing the programme on nights@radionz.co.nz or texting 2101. Also on the panel is Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright, soils scientist Doug Edmeades, organic farmer Jamie Tait-Jamieson, and Fonterra sustainable production manager John Hutchings.

Bloke behind bird song bags Old Blue


Wildlife film maker and sound recorder John Kendrick, the man who initiated National Radio’s bird calls has been awarded an Old Blue.

That’s the Forest and Bird Society’s highest award.

Sean Plunket’s interviewed him on Morning Report today.

Philippa Stevenson has more information, inclduing a photo of the kokako which Kendrick says has his favourite bird song, at The Bull Pen.

Emotion beats facts with food


When Aim toothpaste moved its production to India I stopped buying it.

When I read in a newspaper that most of the garlic in our supermarkets came from China I detoured to an organic shop to get my supplies, on the assumption they’d be locally grown.

While chatting to the woman serving me I mentioned why I was there. She replied, “This probably comes from China too.”

Seeing the look on my face she sought to reassure me by saying it would be organic. The reassurance didn’t work because I don’t have strong feelings about the benefits of organic over whatever food that isn’t organic is called (because it can’t be inorganic).

But I do have very strong feelings about food safety and I’m not confident enough about standards in places like India and China to put their produce in my mouth if there’s an alternative.

I say feelings because this is primarily an emotional response not a rational one. I don’t have any facts about the companies which make the toothpaste and grow the garlic to back up my reservations, and I’ve never been to either country.

But it’s not facts that matter here it’s feelings and that should be worrying Fonterra because as Philippa Stephenson points out over at Dig ‘n’ Stir the news of the contaminated infant milk formula has hit the world headlines.

Fonterra said it did everything it could once it found out about the contamination. That will be cold comfort for the families whose babies died or are ill and it won’t wash with consumers who regardless of the facts might feel happier choosing another brand next time.

Our companies must meet our standards


The contamination of infant milk powder  in China is being blamed on sabotage of the raw milk before it reached the company.

The milk powder is produced by Sanlu a company in which Fonterra has a 43% stake.

The New Zealand dairy giant said someone put the banned chemical melamine into raw milk supplied to Sanlu. The possibility of contamination during the production, storage and sales process has been excluded. Melamine can boost the apparent protein content in some standard tests on food.

I don’t know if it is realistic to expect companies to screen milk for this sort of contamination before they use it but I do wonder if Fonterra could have done more once the contamination was discovered.

Fonterra said it would have preferred a public recall of milk powder that killed two babies in China earlier but its joint venture partner Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group Co Ltd had to abide by Chinese rules.

Those rules wouldn’t apply in New Zealand and if media here had been alerted the news would have soon spread to China.

No-one would have anticipated sabotage but Philippa Stephenson says the debacle wasn’t unexpected.

Fonterra’s sickening infant milk powder, brand blowing disaster in its part-owned Chinese company Sanlu was predictable.

China’s explosive dairy growth had brought major problems with milk quality and exposed a crippling lack of managerial expertise, US Trade representative Todd Meyer told a Christchurch conference only late last year.

Farm dairy hygiene is appalling, bacteria levels in milk are high and antibiotic use so great that yoghurt can’t be made from the milk, the conference heard.

In December, Dig ‘n’ Stir asked whether Fonterra was smart enough to ignore the lure of China, a country littered with the corpses of Western companies that thought they could make a killing in the world’s most populace nation.

The phrase, meant figuratively not literally, has come chillingly true.

There are opportunities for New Zealand companies in China and other countries but these come with real risks if foreign ventures can’t meet New Zealand standards.

PGG Wrightson has a made a big investment in dairying in Uruguay; both Silver Fern Farms and Alliance Group are talking about sourcing lamb from South America. They must be very, very careful that anything associated with their brands and New Zealand’s reputation measure up to everything that would be required if they were produced here.

We are world leaders in food standards, animal welfare and environmental protection but taking our expertise and money to other countries doesn’t guarantee they’ll do things the way we do nor do them to our requirements.

It’s not easy working in other countries with foreign languages and different cultures and what works here may not work there. But that is not an excuse to accept lower standards, especially when it comes to safety.

Paua project waits five years for funds


An East Coast paua hatchery was forced to wait five years for a grant from the Ministry of Agriculture’s Sustainable Farming Fund.

The SFF approved the $230,500 grant in 2002 but the money wasn’t paid over until November last year.

National’s agriculture spokesman David Carter  attributes the delay to “bureaucratic ineptness”.

The grant was for the development of a commercially viable paua production system. The project was to study yellow-foot and virgin paua so seed stock production methods could be developed; to develop a selective breeding system across these two species and common paua to provide superior stock; and to test and develop a recirculating sea water system.

The applicant, Te Runanga o Turanganui a Kiwa, wrote to MAF, MAF’s director general, the Minsiter of Maori Affairs and Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton seeking answers.

Carter has obtained an internal memo  which states:

” ‘all failings – and there has [sic]been many of them – were at MAF’s end’ and that it was ‘extremely embarrassing’ for MAF.”

The Minister should also be embarrassed but as Phillipa Stevenson points out at Dig ‘n’ Stir he avoided the issue when Carter questioned  him in parliament this week.

Five years of ineptness deserves more than obfuscation. Does nobody in government know how to say, “sorry we stuffed up”?

Hat tip: Dig ‘n’ Stir

End of season bonus for Fonterra suppliers expected


The Dom  reports that Fonterra suppliers might get an end of season bonus of at least an extra 30 cents a kilo when the board announces the final payout after a meeting on Thursday. 

Its current payout forecast for 2007-08 is $7.30. Fonterra has a policy of revising payout estimates, other than its regular updates, only for movements of at least 30 cents, so a payout of at least $7.60 for this season is expected.

That would be higher than the current estimates of Goldman Sachs JBWere – $7.40 – and Westpac’s $7.50.

“It would be a mild surprise if the current season’s payout was $7.60 or more,” Westpac agri-economist Doug Steel said.

 That would be about $60,000 more for a 600 cow herd but farmers may not see all of the extra money because the company is considering retaining some of this season’s payout in light of uncertainty in international  financial markets.

Next year’s payout is expected to reflect the slight easing in world dairy prices in the past six months. Goldman Sachs JBWere is picking $6.25 a kilogram of milk solids for 2008-09, and Westpac $6.50.

Fonterra gave the drought as its main reason for lifting its payout forecast last month. A subsequent lift for 2007-08 and a more optimistic view for 2008-09 may be due to the fact that most dairy commodities, except skim milk powder, have been holding their prices in the past couple of months.

Even if next season’s payout is lower than this season’s it will still make dairying and dairy support attractive to people considering a move from sheep and beef although the latest Rabobank/Nielson Rural Confidence Survey shows some improvement in expectations for lamb prices. Philippa Stevenson reports on the survey on Rural Network.

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