Scare approach lifts Chinese confidence
Handling of this year’s Fonterra whey powder contamination scare served to raise Chinese confidence in New Zealand as a safe food exporter, rather than damaging it, an expert says.
The revelation emerged from last week’s Global Food Safety Forum in Dunedin.
The Fonterra food safety scare, where testing showed the possibility of a deadly botulism germ in some of the company’s whey protein concentrate, was among the gathering’s main topics of conversation.
Forum keynote speaker Xiaoming Huang, professor of international relations at Victoria University in Wellington, told delegates China was dismayed at the New Zealand response to the scare.
When the story broke in New Zealand the first question being asked was how the contamination would affect New Zealand’s image in the Chinese market, Huang told the forum.
‘‘I say probably not to the level we feared.’’
Huang said dynamics in this country turned the scandal into a huge issue.
He believed similar circumstances in another country, for example in China, may not have initiated the same level of reaction.
But the Chinese have taken note of the way New Zealand handled the threat and it has served to cement its reputation as a producer of safe food products, Huang said.
‘‘The Chinese were saying, ‘look at how NZ handled this issue’.’’
‘‘And the response from China was, ‘This is actually saying something about the level and the standards that New Zealand companies and the Government take – a high level’.
‘‘I think we took a positive approach. International product in terms of food is a huge thing. New Zealand products, in particular, always have a good reputation.’’
Food safety would remain an important part of the developing economic relationship between China and New Zealand.
The Fonterra food safety ‘‘accident’’ had enriched both countries’ experience and knowledge on the subject, he said.
‘‘In the case of this year, the response from New Zealand – how the Government handled that and how the company handled that – we all learn from these things.’’
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy also touched on the scare when he opened the three- day forum on Wednesday.
Government was pleased the presence of clostridium botulinium bacteria in the Fonterra product was eventually discounted, he said.
But the incident highlighted the importance of world-class food safety systems and the trust of consumers and regulators.
The Government was doubling its focus on food safety systems, Guy said.
He outlined Fonterra moves to make changes after its own investigation. Conclusions of two government inquiries would be out next month.