Wednesday, July 6, 2022

No safety risk but worries remain

Trade Minister Tim Groser sees no grounds for action on our dairy exports because there are no health risks from chemical contamination. However, Government officials and Fonterra are worried about the prospect of international regulators and customers rejecting New Zealand dairy products after traces of dicyandiamide (DCD) were found in milk. And fertiliser companies suspended the sale and use of products containing the chemical. The Government was monitoring the issue closely, he said on January 25, the day after the public was told of the suspension of products containing DCD.  The country’s diplomatic posts had been informed and were maintaining a “watching brief”. The US Food and Drug Administration (USDA), US Food Safety and Inspection Service, Food Standards Australia NZ, the Canadian Food Inspection Authority, Health Canada and the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry had all been briefed. The European Commission was also being briefed directly.

The only reaction at that time had been expressions of appreciation for the advice given to those countries.

“Our international obligations require us to inform trading partners of any incidents that may be of interest or concern,” Groser said.

In this situation, no food safety risk was associated with the affected products so there was no justification for any trading partner to impose measures against our dairy products.

Groser said the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) understood only a very small amount of product might contain residues because only 5% of NZ dairy farmers have been using DCD which affects a limited number of dairy products for a short time after its application two to three times a year.

“It is worth noting that DCD is not a banned substance and there are no food safety concerns,” he said.

The action taken by government agencies and industry bodies had been collaborative. All involved had recognised consumers’ high expectations of NZ food and the regulations we have in place to ensure its quality and safety.

Fonterra's key account managers and staff who deal directly with customers had received a comprehensive briefing. They would talk directly to customers who might have concerns, a company spokesman said.

“We have had a few follow-up questions from customers wanting to better understand what DCD is and how it has been used in NZ.”

Fonterra was speaking to them on a case-by-case basis.

The ministry’s scientists had concluded DCD residues in food from pasture application did not raise food-safety concerns.

“To put it in perspective, we tested 100 product samples in September and found only very low levels of DCD in 10 samples of the product and tests done a few weeks later found no residues. So it affects only a very small number of products – no butter or cheese – and there is no impact on milk in fridges today.”

Milk powders from last September would remain on the market.

“While it is possible that some contain DCD residues, tests results indicate the percentage would be very low,” the Fonterra spokesman said.

On the issue of the potential economic costs, he said the action taken by the fertiliser companies to suspend DCD meant NZ would not face a future risk of food products being excluded from international markets, in the absence of any internationally agreed standard for DCD residues in food.

“We would hope that the action taken by the fertiliser companies and MPI will maintain confidence among international trading partners.”

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