6 Aug 2013

China criticism of 100% Pure brand rejected

10:14 pm on 6 August 2013

The Government is rejecting criticism from China's state news agency that New Zealand's clean, green brand has been undermined by a contamination scare.

China has put a temporary ban on Fonterra whey protein concentrate and dairy base powder as work continues trace goods that may have the bacterium that can cause botulism. Thirty-eight tonnes of whey produced in May 2012 was tainted by a dirty pipe at one of the dairy giant's processing plants in Waikato.

Prime Minister John Key.

Prime Minister John Key. Photo: RNZ

An opinion piece published by Xinhua on Tuesday has labelled the 100% Pure brand "a festering sore". Xinhua is owned and closely monitored by the Chinese Communist Party and regarded as reflecting the view of Chinese leaders.

The article questions the 100% Pure brand, saying it needs to be fixed before New Zealand's trading partners stop "loving it".

But New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says Xinhua is taking the brand out of context. Mr Key said just because Fonterra had a problem with one of its production runs, it shouldn't be assumed that New Zealand doesn't have a clean, green image.

However, the Green Party said the 100% Pure brand was tainted well before the latest Fonterra scare.

The Government said on Tuesday its relationship with China is still strong, but acknowledges it now has to work hard to maintain it as the contamination scare unfolds.

Testing in March this year indicated a problem and the whey tested positive for clostridium botulinum last Wednesday. Fonterra notified the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) two days later. The batches of whey product were used in 870 tonnes of products.

The opinion piece published in Xinhua criticised New Zealand for a lack of government quality control of export products. It said the country's problems are systemic and it has fallen hostage to a blinkered devotion to a laissez-faire market ideology.

But John Key rejected this, saying everything he has seen during the past three days shows the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has acted thoroughly professionally, quickly and as soon as information was received.

"I don't think that it is right that deregulation is causing an issue here. And actually, historically, I mean you've got to say as a country and as an industry in food production, we've met those very high standards."

Labour Party leader David Shearer said that New Zealand has been let down by Fonterra and the Government would have to now work very hard on its relationship with China. "We have got an excellent relationship, but there's been damage as a result of this. We need to be working very hard - and that means everybody from our side as well - to restore that relationship."

However, Mr Key doesn't believe relations with the Chinese have been harmed. He said the sense the Government is getting from the Chinese is that New Zealand has been open and honest as the contamination scare unfolded, but he understands their disquiet over consumer safety.

Mr Key said he would meet with representatives from the Chinese regulator when they visit New Zealand in the near future. He said the extent of the damage to New Zealand's reputation would depend on how the contamination scare is handled in the next few weeks.

Joyce frustrated with Fonterra

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said on Tuesday he's frustrated with the time it has taken to reconcile the supply chain of contaminated whey produced by Fonterra.

Ten percent of the contaminated product that Fonterra has sold customers overseas remains unaccounted for.

But Mr Joyce told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme tracking down that product is being affected by systems issues in Australia and batches have to be checked manually, which could take up to 36 hours.

Fonterra's head of New Zealand milk products Gary Romano told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme the present primary concern is human health and whether there will changes in the company's leadership would be subject to later investigation.

But former Federated Farmers dairy chair Lachlan McKenzie said heads should roll now. He questioned why Fonterra chairman John Wilson has not been fronting the crisis and said some farmers are suggesting that he should fall on his sword.