17 Oct 2014

Greens criticise Hort NZ over gastro cases

4:24 pm on 17 October 2014

The Green Party says it is very disappointing that Horticulture New Zealand is criticising a heath professional for trying to keep the public safe.

Kevin Hague.

Kevin Hague. Photo: GREEN PARTY

HortNZ launched a scathing attack on the Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, Alistair Humphrey, who informed the public this week that bagged lettuces and carrots had been linked by a government scientific report to severe gastroenteritis that affected 127 New Zealanders.

Its president Peter Silcock described Dr Humphrey as an uninformed alarmist for publicly discussing the ESR report.

Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague said Dr Humphrey was putting public health first - and Horticulture New Zealand should do the same.

"I think Alistair Humphrey did exactly the right thing. In fact, the thing he is legally required to do, which is to put the public health ahead of all other considerations," said Mr Hague.

"New Zealanders needed to know that there was potentially a risk from these products - Alistair Humphrey made them aware of those risks. I know that there will be growers whose product is entirely safe to eat who will have suffered some commercial damage and that is unfortunate. But the fact is the risk to public health has to be put ahead of that risk."

Mr Hague said it was disappointing that Horticulture New Zealand attacked someone for doing their job.

"I think Horticulture NZ's long-term interests are also served by closing down this epidemic as quickly as possible and doing everything that we can do to ensure public safety."

Mr Hague said the subsequent quarantining of farmland by a supplier of supermarket operator Foodstuffs, thought to be linked to the yersinia peseudotuberculosis outbreak, and the ESR report show Dr Humphrey did the right thing.

Foodstuffs said a paddock at its supplier Living Foods had been quarantined and that independent testing on this farmland was now being carried out.

It said based on the timeline of the food illness outbreak, and the ESR report, it believed the most likely source of contamination was farm based.

Foodstuffs said it can assure all consumers that Pams bagged lettuce for sale now was safe for consumption.

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