Scare ap­proach lifts Chi­nese con­fi­dence

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery -

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.

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