Bruce Wills objects to the gleeful way some NZers delight in smearing Fonterra and losing all perspective on the tainting issue

Bruce Wills objects to the gleeful way some NZers delight in smearing Fonterra and losing all perspective on the tainting issue

By Bruce Wills*

Over recent weeks I have wondered why some anti-heroes are lionised, yet the reward for others who blow the whistle is a right kicking.

Look at former U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, Julian ‘WikiLeaks’ Assange and the runaway United States operative, Edward Snowden.

While personally I disagree with what they did, of the three, it is Bradley Manning who’s shown the most courage.

While Assange and Snowden cut and ran, Manning stayed to face the music ironically becoming the least lionised.

In complete contrast the Fonterra recall whipped up a brutal media storm.

I, for one, do not think Fonterra has acquitted itself with total glory, hence the number of inquiries now underway with one report on the way.

Yet no one can deny it blew the whistle.

This is not a one off because Fonterra blew the corporate whistle in China several years ago.

Of all the New Zealand reporting I have read, 3News’ Jono Hutchison, who was actually in China, penned the most telling words on their reaction:

“But the final tone of this story is that here in Beijing, most of the Chinese people I have spoken to have been impressed by the way this has been handled,” he wrote. “In a country where pollution is inexorable and food contamination can mean multiple deaths, Fonterra's announcement that it had found botulism-causing bacteria, even though no illness had been reported, was seen as honest. That our government also appears to be taking a serious interest has been well noted too.”

Now imagine you are an executive in a middling sized food manufacturer somewhere in New Zealand and a technician finds a potential problem.

Do you do the right thing and initiate a recall, risking a ton of Fonterra-like media bricks to fall upon your head?

Or, do you shrug your shoulders, reply, ‘she’ll be right’ and take a punt.

This, to Federated Farmers, is the biggest risk from the media overreaction to Fonterra’s recall. 

Given the recall was initiated by Fonterra and has been seemingly successful on a global scale, Radio NZ was more correct to describe it as a 'scare'.

In contrast, television and some of the more excitable commentators used the word, scandal.

Memories seem to be short about what a food scandal truly is. 

Earlier this year, in Europe, was the ‘equine beef’ scandal.

It showed Kiwi farmers that European traceability systems had broken down because if horsemeat was being sold as beef, goodness knows what else was as well.

It was fraud but no one, as of yet, was physically harmed by it.

Not so in 2011, also in Europe. Then, E coli in organic German bean sprouts killed 31 people and made thousands more ill.

This scandal saw official German misinformation which cost Spanish agriculture hundreds of millions of dollars. It took several weeks but the outbreak was isolated to an organic German producer. A Google search will throw up many more food contamination scandals where companies deliberately risk human health.

Is this Fonterra?  I seriously doubt it but that is why we have the inquiries underway.

Some countries have moved to ban Fonterra products but my hope is that Russia will eventually follow what it did in 2011 with Europe’s killer vegetables.

Then, it understandably slapped a complete ban on all European vegetables but lifted it just two months later despite the death and sickness toll. Russian authorities trusted science and European Union assurances and they were right to do so.

Given no whey products were supplied to Russia, any risk, already incredibly low, is non-existent.

That’s why we want Russia to trust science and to trust New Zealand official assurances.

Likewise with Sri Lankan tests finding traces of DCD and testing underway in Bangladesh. I understand DCD nitrification inhibitors are not toxic and were only used on a small percentage of New Zealand farms. In any event, the very last of it was applied in the spring of 2012 before it was voluntarily withdrawn.

Given the amount of surplus milk for global export is wafer thin, the price of milk has not been affected. Two weeks after the recall was announced, US analyst Robin Schmahl commented, “It certainly has caused concern for the world dairy industry and Fonterra in particular with inquiries being conducted; however, it was virtually a non-issue in the milk futures market”.

The most recent GlobalDairyTrade auction posted positive gains and Fonterra has revised this season’s forecast upwards.

Isn’t the real scandal here the gleeful way some New Zealanders delight in knocking down tall poppies?

There will be things Fonterra didn’t get right but that shouldn’t cloud the fact it initiated the recall.

If we cannot grasp a sense of perspective, how can we expect others, following a shrill local reaction, to get one either?

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Bruce Wills is the President of Federated Farmers. You can contact him here »

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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39 Comments

I dislike Fonterra because they are shafting ordinary Kiwi families .
They are a brutal monopoly who are gouging ordinary folk on the milk price , and now offering 'free milk to low decile schools " in a shocking attempt to assuage their consciences . We can all see through this ruse
One simple question , why is a litre of milk so disproportionately expensive in New Zealand retail stores ?  
A survey of 11 countries was conducted and New Zealand milk was the fifth most expensive in the world , and that includes countries that import milk
I grew up with a big jug of milk in the fridge , which was what we drank in huge quantities when thirsty from running around or playing cricket or rugby in the back yard
A generation later , we are a middle class North Shore  family with two incomes ,  and when our kids were growing up over the past 5 years , we banned our kids from drinking milk from the fridge.
They drank fruit juice or water
Go Figure .
 

If you look at Woolworths results today you will see that there return on capital is over 20%.Now most firms have a hard time making more than 12%. Fonterra makes about  9 to 11% at best I think from memory. So from that do you shop at the suppermarkets because they are making a side more from selling things than Fonterra and most of the other producers.                                 If Fonterra is making so much from selling milk locally why don't any of the new start up dairy proccesors sell milk on the local market, but just send it all for export. The reason that milk is cheaper in some countries than New Zealand is because we have gst on food and they don't.Plus there farmers have a hard time making any money because most of the milk goes into the local economy and the suppermarkets can pay just enough that farmers can just make ends meet.

... good on you ... since listening to Dr Robert Lustig on the perils of sugar , particulary fructose , we're off fruit juices too ...

Don't you find the bulge in your pocket a nusiance ZanyZ...? or do you back pack it like.
In the interests of balance I suggest you recycle one at a time via the other pocket.....if your hip to that.

You might want to check the sugar content of your milk. The milk in our fridge is labelled as having 4.9% sugar - definitely less than the juice at 7.8% but then we don't buy juice in anything like the same volume as milk.

Dr Lustig's premise is that we consume too many sugars in drinking fruit juice , and get very little of the available fibre , compared to just picking up a fresh fruit and eating it ... it's very easy to drink 6 oranges worth of juice .... compared to the difficulty of eating 6 oranges ...
 
... which I did once , on a 45 'c day in the Australian desert .... and my pee turned the most awesome vibrant orange colour .... it was worth it to stand there marvelling at my golden-orange stream .... wish I'd had a camera with me ...

Boatman wake up
Fonterra receive the world market price for their milk. They charge supermarkets that same price no "jack up" so the over charging comes between Fonterra and you the consumer maybe you should be looking at the mark up from fonterra to you the consumer.
Why does Shane Jones call the super markets Brown shirts ask your self.
 

That's the way of the world these days Mr Boat, Fonterra doesn't give a crap about you, or me, or anybody else.
It is PR. So some dumb f**k in marketing at Fonterra gets to put a tick on thier CV, ready for thier next job.
It's a big change from the people that actually built this country, when hard work was clearing a paddock of gorse.
Now hard work is defined as getting someone to take little Tarquin to preschool on time.

Bruce wrote "If we cannot grasp a sense of perspective, how can we expect others, following a shrill local reaction, to get one either?"
Er, on that whole perspective thing- I don't think I've heard too many of Fonterra's critics calling for those involved to be killed (or even imprisoned for the rest of their life) unlike the critics of Snowden and Manning.

If NZ Inc. was branded 95% Pure, you'd have a point. I can smell the other 5% most mornings now - the herds are back - and this county has had 3 or 4 E. coli outbreaks and the nitrate levels keep going up.
And I like being mean to people I don't like via the Internet. Better than hunting them down and burning effigies outside their homes, no?

You located any of that herbage yet Submit....? the smell of Fonterra's cowpats burns deep in my nostrils .....and I defo picked the wrong day to give up amphetamines... 

Shrill is a popular word among the propagandists these days. Better think of a new word before the last little bit of credibility has gone. Second thoughts - its too late.

Fonterra has  had a shameful amount of criticism for alerting markets to the smallest chance of a potential problem, which has turned out to be not the case; they deserve medals for openness and honesty, not mass hysterical worldwide media slagging.

Unfortunately the privilege of "falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater" is generally available to each of us once.

Bruce...I really have to say on re-reading this , don't confuse patriotism with economic bias.
I sincerly want us to do well as a Country but perhaps I dont want to share in a zillion cow future and the banking hubs to support them.
 Can you honestly say "trickle down effect' and keep a straight  face....? 

Trickle-down effect, an interesting, and intriguing proposal, Christov.
Agree with your point about media imbalance Bruce, but as president of Fed Farmers, you certainly don’t represent me on your judgement of individual vs. corporate whistle blowers, and the appropriate use of emotive adjectives.
Regarding neo liberal fallacy; given the undermining of the cooperative dairy industry since dairy board de-regulation, how has the industry and farmers benefited under the Fonterra (new generation cooperative??)model ? I thought that the merging and dissolution of cooperatives to form Fonterra was supposed to streamline and improve efficiencies, which would generate more wealth for all, and minimise the risk of botulism, the neo liberal nirvana?
As a Fonterra supplier I’m embarrassed and ashamed of the spin and subterfuge, as it doesn’t seem consistent with cooperative values and principles, which in turn probably aren’t consistent with neo liberalism.

... the only trickle-down these guys are creating is the nitrate and E.coli laden muck which is leaching into our waterways , aquifers , and lakes ...

Than muck costs money to generate GBH, so in true free market tradition, govt should be lobbied to charge all  down stream benefactors, I mean consumers.

Crikey Dick & Jane Omnologo , I'm not paying for that stuff , in true Kiwi DIY style , I can go home and make me own ...

Touche

Top post Omnologo, I only hope ...Bruce actually reads it , and takes something from it to give thought to....you have made some very good points...!
It's no accident there has been growing disquiet with Fonterra, and it has nothing to do with Poppies...tall or otherwise.
 Nice to see your round BTW. stay well.

Many thanks Christov, and all the best to you. I'm actually off out to pick up calves, and shift breaks, and milk the colostrums. I've been thinking about minimising crap in the rivers, it's a tough one for NZ, and those that like certainty, consistency and a standard of living, but I'm trying.

Can't ask more than that Omnologo...everything has to start with the thought of care

Omnologo: your embarrassment is well founded
My impression of the Willis article is a scattering of Fairy Dust, Hundreds and Thousands with some Sprinkles thrown on top. Or is it just blowing smoke.

Omnologo: I have a slightly different view on the formation of Fonterra.  When we voted for it we didn't believe any of the spin that came before it. BUT we did believe that forming one company to take on the world rather than competing against other kiwi farmers in the same markets was the way to go.  As such IMO we are wealthier now than we would have been had we remained as we were. There was a dog-eat-dog attitude between co-ops and if you really think it was all beer and skittles with the dairy board, then I suggest you were wearing rose coloured glasses. ;-)  In fact we weren't likely to remain as we were, as in time IMO we would have seen more overseas buyin/out of the co-ops.  Perhaps for some that would have been ok, but I'm a fan of dairy co-ops and preferred to take the route we have - warts and all.  IMO Fonterra has minimised the risk of botulism - lets face it none was found (deliberate attempt at brand sabotage?) and the hygiene/environmental standards now imposed on us as suppliers and in the factories is much higher now.
 
The media circus on the false botulism scare started with a 'tip off'. Perhaps the NZ media also needs to review how it handled the false scare.  The fact that the markets didn't move that much perhaps shows a maturity there that NZ media has yet to reach. It was MPI and the govt that were running around like headless chooks with all sorts of statements. (Having said that I was overseas for the whole time and it just made a mention in the press where I was, so perhaps my views were skewed by reading NZ media reports).
 
Our customers don't seem to have had a problem with Fonterra's handling of the affair. If Danone decide to sue, it will be interesting to see who is held liable - Fonterra or govt (via MPI or AgResearch).

Good on you for sticking up for Fonterra, and though I agree with your reasoning, especially working together to take on the world, I’d disagree that it has come to pass.
I’d argue that we’ve lost a lot with how Fonterra has evolved, we may be wealthier in that 100 years of cooperative capital has been transferred to our balance sheets, but that has been promptly transferred offshore if not through government regulated subsidisation of foreign owned independents, then aussie owned banks via buying the neighbours farm (I know this is growing the business in the neo liberal sense). The most tragic result is the abandonment of cooperative principles and ethos which imo fostered the development of the dairy industry to this point, essentially by working together. I would highly value belonging and supplying a co-operative, but fear Fonterra is far removed.

I respect what Bruce Wills is trying to do here - engage with the public, look forward etc.
Unfortunately he is up against the undeniable fact that the past 2 decades of dairy growth were largely done on the back of unofficial subsidies in terms of water use and pollution management and many many farmers operate in a way that is best described as selfish
I think the tough thing for FedFarmers is that they are caught between trying to do the right thing and some very powerful corporate interests  (think pollution, seed preservation, chemical use etc) 
It's a long road to hoe, and personally I will retain my scepticism for some time, but if FedFarmers are trying to turn the corner then I wish them luck.

You're not wrong about the muck GBH, just spent a few nights staying at a remote Hawkes Bay  beach.
The family who have owned  the bach since the 50's  pointed out telltale greeny brown smears all over beach as tide recedes.  Said its been happening for the last few years.
Interestingly, no rivers or creeks empty into this  particular bay.
So not just rivers and lakes being polluted directly, but now washing out to sea  and washing back in.
 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but are you suggesting there is such a fecal concentration in our rivers attributable to dairy farming, that it's turning the ocean to crap?
Hope it didn't ruin your stay in the remote HB bach, poor buggers.

In midsummer they will tell you the botulism in your rock oyster is due to a new naturally occuring algae bloom.....
As  Judy Collins would say...Don't give me the correct answer ,give me the one I'm going to agree with.
The harmony of Science and Industry is not without maintenance costs.

prosperopink, Can you/the bach owners catergorically prove it is not the septic tanks/sewage systems from these 'remote' baches that are causing the problem?  An engineer told me that old septic tank systems would only last 15years max and what many people who own properties (not only remote ones) do not realise it, and so long as the toilet doesn't block up etc, merrily carry on believing that their system is enviro friendly when in fact it is likely not to be.
 
 

I'm certainly not laying the Manukau Harbour's problems at the door of Fonterra ,Stephen H, but .......it's about talk of mittigation of pollution levels in waterways, just as the expansion of Dairy is a priority agenda......
 Somewhere in there one is reduced to lip service....no points for guessing under this Admin.

Christov: You might need to explain to Stephen H that reference to Manukau Harbour. Reminds me of netting for flounder late one night, by moonlight, with a bunch of mates, a bit north of Ihuomata, across a few paddocks, waded in with the flounder net, up to out knees in mud. Didnt catch any flounder. Caught one blowfish. We were young. Knew nothing about puketutu island and settling ponds.

iconoclast...I'd hate to guess how much Mercury I've consumed though eating both flounder and shell fish way back in the day...when they started the reclaim. in the Manukau..,
Hugh Watt  What.?
But I think it shows from time to time.....ha ha.!

At a recent meeting attended by DoC, the DoC rep said that the Dairy Industry is the most environmentally aware industry and is to the forefront of promoting environmental responsibility'.  Have to say that the comment came out of left field to those of us who were dairy farmers. :-)
 
.it's about talk of mittigation of pollution levels in waterways unless that also includes non dairy farmers truly accepting that they also are polluters then we are going to get no where.  It is not a simple science as weather can have a significant effect.  As someone posted on here a while ago Lake Ellesmere's problems came out of the Wahine storm - but it is much easier to blame farming as that satisfies the human need to blame someone. 
 
Have yet to see on this site any concern of non-dairy pollution or talk of the trade-offs that will have to be made with regards to water quality. Fonterra's 2013 terms of supply requires suppliers to meet environmental standards more robust than most if not all, regional councils. 
 
There's a lot being done Christov, but if you aren't involved in the primary sector you may not be aware of the new rules/regulations RCs have brought in.
Regional Councils such as Otago have brought in leaching limits that everyone has to meet. 
Environment Southland currently have new conversions as a consented activity, not a permitted activity.
Environment Waikato have allocated water rights (if somewhat controversially).
 
As Stephen H says we are all responsible. To say otherwise is simply ignoring the obvious.
 
 

 Thank you Casso....thoughtful as ever...!, yep, don't miss my point, the bite you took from that sentence was not my focus.
 It is the expansion of the industry post infrastructual changes or regulations to reduce pollutants rather than before......or indeed making it up on the fly.
 My concern Casso...is that we need to aknowledge there is a problem to address it, yet we still peddal 100% pure, that does not help confront the level of degredation many of our waterways have already reached.
 Yes we all have a share in it...absolute fact.!!....but some have slightly more output to the problem not matched by their input to solutions.
Defo not anti-farmer Casso, but we can't all be Dairy farmers, and I don't wanna be a banker.

Well people thats a whole LOT. I'll be surprised to get read- But having come this far ;This:The milk price thing .. GET OVER IT. This is our black gold,only its white and costs a lot less than cigarettes .GO FIGURE that ? HOWEVER - I do expect an exemplary standard unequaled in the free world.It is very distressing to get home from the town and find milk just purchased /wrapped in newsprint/ placed in a cooler bag and shot straight to my fridge ..RANCID .Thats usually delivery mishandling like leaving the milk truck with the product sitting in direct sunlight for periods I would never....
MPI tests disagree with AgResearch findings that have some saying the botulism scare was a cry "Wolf" hoax. But when the reputation of N.Z.s' crowning jewel (in export) is so heaviily soiled & tarnished by any scare is it not time checks were in place that enable Fonterra to reply; " NOT ON OUR WATCH ! IT IS TESTED AS IT WAS BEING PACKAGED. Results showed  the cleanest organic product anywhere in the world" --"no contamination came from Fonterra in New Zealand" ?
It is indictable that the response was "IS IT REALLY????" We didn't know it contained Botulism. Pardon the loose interpretation. This is how the news reached Me, a kiwi with head down arse up keeping the cupboards full and home fires burning, overhearing the loudest news reports of the evening.+ I agree with Bruce Wills on the point that our own media handled this event like a national standards suicide. Falling on their blades to capture our attention. Hoping for a public outcry?? It was aparently, now a very poorly researched STOP PRESS reaction to a potentially BIG story. Did AgResearch make mistakes? Who did release the first clostridium botulinum findings? Was that in fact correct? The smoke screen is complete. Just hope thats the last we ever hear of it , Fonterra? Its our country as a whole resting on your great shoulders in hindsight.