Jury still out

14/11/2013

Fonterra’s internal report on the  botulism scare was full and frank.

The company has said it will implement all 33 recommendations.

It must because as Federated Farmers chief executive Conor English told the international food safety conference,  food safety is New Zealand’s number one issue – and the botulism scare was damaging and a massive risk for the economy.

Mr English compared it to Christchurch’s February 2011 earthquake.

“The stuff that happened with Fonterra and the dairy industry is very like the earthquake … and if they can’t get, frankly, their s*** together so that they are better for it – then I think New Zealand’s in a lot of trouble.

“So I hope, that they do – but the jury’s out for me, to be honest.”

These are strong words.

The earthquake killed lots of people and in the end no lives were at risk from the contaminated why protein.

But a real health threat in any of our dairy products would have as devastating an impact as the earthquakes have.

Fonterra is our biggest exporter and the fallout from the botulism scare shows the damage goes much wider than the company when something goes wrong.

That it appears not to have done any lasting damage has been in spite of the company’s inept handling of the issue when it broke and in the immediate aftermath.

The director of Victoria University’s contemporary China research centre, Xiaoming Huang, said Fonterra’s problem was not as big a deal in China as it might appear from New Zealand.

Professor Huang said New Zealand food still has a very good reputation and believes the public over-reacted.

The Global Food Safety forum’s founder, Rick Gilmore, said time will tell if New Zealand’s response so far is the right one.

“Agricultural and ag exports are so important to the New Zealand economy, that you can’t afford to do otherwise. I think everybody recognises that. So my impression is that New Zealand has held on to its claim to be a food safety model.”

That’s reassuring but no excuse for complacency.


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