Friday, July 1, 2022

Key: Something went wrong

Fonterra whey latest Prime Minister John Key says Fonterra needs to work on regaining the trust of its consumers after an international recall of contaminated products.

It is understood about 900 tonnes of products containing contaminated whey including infant formula has been recalled because they included bacteria associated with the potentially fatal disease botulism.

The 38 tonnes of whey produced in May 2012 was contaminated by a dirty pipe at the Fonterra processing plant at Hautapu in Waikato. Fonterra is yet to explain why it took so long to identify the potentially fatal strain of bacteria.

China has temporally banned all New Zealand dairy imports and Russia has also blocked milk powder products despite not being one of the countries that imported the potentially contaminated product.

Other countries affected include Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.

Key, who travelled to China for trade talks in April, said Fonterra must focus on rebuilding its consumer’s confidence.

“And that’s all about food safety.

“When you’re feeding your baby an infant baby formula product you have to, as a mother, have absolute confidence that your child will be safe and healthy after that feed,” he said.

Asked if this could damage NZ’s brand Key said the Government was determined to understand what went wrong and get the best information to consumers.

“If you think about it from Fonterra’s point of view and from NZ’s point of view, one of the reasons we are such a big part of the Chinese market, the reason why consumers buy our products, even if they are not the wealthiest consumers, is because in their own domestic market there is quite a lack of trust when it comes to their farmers.

“Now if we break that bond of trust with consumers then we could be put in the same place. It wouldn’t matter what the Chinese Government does. It’s not what the Government thinks it is what consumers think and that’s our risk,” Key said.

“In the defence of Fonterra they’ve been a company that produces billions and billions of dollars worth of products a month and have been highly successful, with world class technology but something’s gone wrong here,” he said.

China has become ultra sensitive to food safety scandals, especially since the Sanlu melamine contaminated infant-formula scandal that killed six babies and made thousands of others sick in 2008. 

NZ signed a free trade agreement with China under Helen Clark’s administration in 2008.

Our exports to China have more than tripled since then. Last year exports to China totalled $6.9 billion, up 16.6% on a year earlier, according to statistics from Key’s office.

In June Key said the Government had no plans to toughen up on milk-powder export regulations despite calls from NZ’s Infant Nutrition Council saying inexperienced companies were looking to cash in on growing Chinese demand.

The council wants all firms involved in the marketing of infant formula to comply with an agreed set of industry standards.

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