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Commentary: Fonterra report raises questions over New Zealand export policies

English.news.cn   2013-10-29 19:22:33            

by Huang Xingwei

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) --- The commendably frank inquiry by dairy giant Fonterra into the failings that led to August's false alarm over botulism contamination also contained some curious allusions to New Zealand's export policies.

Of special note are recommendations 31 and 32, and the questions they raise about how the New Zealand government supports its exporters beyond merely urging other countries to open their markets and promoting New Zealand produce.

The first of these refers to seeking maximize the "alignment between Fonterra's quality and commercial aspirations, and the New Zealand government's economic, food safety and diplomatic objectives and responsibilities."

Surely the question is are they aligned or are they not? And, if not, then what are the areas needing to be "maximized"?

This recommendation also refers to maximizing "the constructive collaboration with the New Zealand government (including regulatory agencies)."

Given that the report highlights areas where inadequate oversight was shown and that Fonterra was unable to "promptly and definitively" trace the affected batches of whey protein concentrate, this reference deserves elaboration.

Recommendation 32 states that the Fonterra board should " encourage investment by 'NZ Inc' (including the NZ government, Fonterra itself and other food products firms) in ensuring that New Zealand has pre-eminent scientific and diagnostic resources" for food quality and safety purposes.

To those who wonder on what basis the New Zealand government representatives justify their promotion of the country's high- quality food, that recommendation could be concerning.

New Zealand produce sells for premium prices in overseas markets, and consumers want to know if there is any substance to the trustworthy reputation that they pay for.

While the inquiry found technical failings that led to what was undoubtedly contamination although nothing as serious as botulism much of the debacle that followed seems to have been chiefly attributable to the traceability problem and bad communication.

Ultimately, in a country that mandates self-regulation through "risk management programs" for food producers, Fonterra did the right thing with a precautionary recall at enormous damage to itself and its fellow exporters.

The New Zealand government's own Ministerial Inquiry into the botulism fiasco is due to issue an interim report in December.

New Zealand's markets will be watching to see how much " alignment" it has with Fonterra's proposals and whether it is ready to switch tactics and begin engaging in remedial action.

Editor: chengyang
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