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Fonterra Botulism Lessons Learnt

Thursday, 8 August 2013 at 12:47pm

The Fonterra botulism issue is a large and complicated issue and it is extremely important that it is dealt with correctly and safely. It is another reminder for New Zealand agriculture and the dairy industry in particular of the risks associated with producing food.  Food safety is an incredibly important component to the globalisation of trade in food.  With new Free Trade Agreements with China and negotiations underway with Russia, India and Korea, New Zealand has to ensure they have effective food safety checks in place both here and in our overseas markets. We shouldn’t consider these checks as just a regulatory or government issue and with Fonterra they certainly are not.

With the current situation there will be a number of internal and external enquiries.  This will be completed at a Government level through to internal levels to ensure processes are tested for robustness and changed to ensure food safety remains paramount.  The current stage is not about what happened it is about human safety and this has been the priority.

Once the safety aspects are confirmed then there would be a shift to the review process to ensure systems, testing, and protocols are in place that would encompass such an event occurring again.  This is very much the focus of Fonterra and the Ministry Of Primary Industries in New Zealand.

In most overseas market’s a government’s responsibility is purely to verify the industry is doing what they should be doing, not managing the process.  Therefore, at the end of the day the onus is on us, the dairy industry to ensure that we are producing safe food products.  There should not be reliance on regulatory bodies or the Ministry to manage that. 

This is especially important given that the New Zealand dairy industry only plays a small part in many of the international markets but it is a large part of cross international border trade.  For us to grow and develop markets our customers need to be ensured that as an industry we do take food safety seriously.  It is possible that through this event and the review of it, Fonterra will be seen as a transparent organisation focused on doing the right thing.  It may be identified that there are ways of doing it better and these ways may would be implemented, but it is not until the various reviews are complete would this be confirmed.

Fortunately the recent Fonterra scare has not had too much of an impact on dairy prices, with only a modest drop in the GlobalDairyTrade auction this week.  The markets reflecting that New Zealand Dairy Farm Investments are still a great option.