Allan Barber says it wasn't company labs but Govt inspectors who got the Fonterra testing wrong

Allan Barber says it wasn't company labs but Govt inspectors who got the Fonterra testing wrong

By Allan Barber

So Fonterra’s botulism contamination problem wasn’t a problem after all according to the tests conducted for the Ministry for Primary Industries.

It is most unfortunate that Fonterra got it so wrong that it felt the need to wear a hair shirt and submit itself, not to mention its own management, the government and the country as a whole, to the worst public relations disaster imaginable.

The original tests were carried out by AgResearch which still stands by its test results, but according to MPI’s tests by global experts, the whey protein contained a different gene from the Clostridium botulinum.

MPI took it seriously, the government took it seriously, Gary Romano fell on his sword and two managers have been dismissed. China was completely spooked by the prospect of infant deaths, while Russia and Sri Lanka have discovered an opportunity to place bans, temporary or otherwise, on New Zealand dairy production.

Infant formula manufacturers will have suffered untold damage to their businesses, from image, financial and future sales perspectives.

The damage to our image abroad has been incalculable. When newspapers all over the world take delight in writing headlines such as ‘100% Manure’ and question our right to promote our tourism industry on the back of our clean, green environment, one wonders whether we can ever recover from this single mistake.

The answer is that we will in time, but perhaps nobody will ever really believe the 100% Pure claim again, even if it was never meant to be taken literally.

Having said that, the recent spate of food safety problems, among them the apparent discovery of traces of chemicals which weren’t there, is not all that surprising when one thinks about it.

New Zealand’s exports are massively weighted towards agriculturally based food products, all of which have the potential to pose more or less serious food safety issues.

This is why MPI’s inspection regime is so comprehensive, although the dairy production problems may suggest to an outside observer that the systems in place are not as failsafe as they should be.

Only a couple of days ago Greens spokesperson, Stefan Browning, has called for MPI to stop the practice of allowing meat companies to carry out some of their own inspection procedures and revert to all meat inspection having to be performed by AsureQuality’s meat inspectors.

Browning said the meat industry is potentially a comparable risk to the dairy industry.

Therefore it’s a great relief that the systems didn’t actually fail in the case of Fonterra’s dirty pipes.

Someone who ought to know told me more than a week ago that there would be no traces of Clostridium botulinum found in the whey protein, so it all appears to have been a big fuss about nothing very much.

However there is a question as to whether all food safety has suddenly been compromised by a fall in standards caused by devolving responsibility to the companies which produce or process the food products. 

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There is no evidence of a sudden drop in standards in spite of recent events, although conspiracy theorists will assume that independent Government employed inspection has been compromised by companies being allowed to inspect their own products.

In this case it was a test by AgResearch, a Crown Research Institute, that provoked the contamination scare, although presumably the product had already been cleared by Fonterra’s in house testing laboratory.

In the dairy industry there are 49 Approved Recognised Agencies including both independent testing agencies and company owned laboratories. This latest chain of events does not necessarily invalidate this testing structure.

There would appear to be potentially a long queue of people and organisations looking for compensation, including dismissed managers, infant formula manufacturers whose businesses have been undermined, Tourism New Zealand whose brand has been dragged through spilt milk powder and all those businesses which depend on our international reputation.

It is ironic that Fonterra has just announced its highest ever payout to farmers which will of course be great for the economy, but that might not be enough to compensate for the damage caused by the company’s PR disaster.

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Allan Barber is a commentator on agribusiness, especially the meat industry, and lives in the Matakana Wine Country where he runs a boutique B&B with his wife. You can contact him by email at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz or read his blog here ». This item was first published in Farmers Weekly. It is used here with permission,

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It is most unfortunate that Fonterra got it so wrong that it felt the need to wear a hair shirt and submit itself, not to mention its own management, the government and the country as a whole, to the worst public relations disaster imaginable.
 
What is it about some NZers? - I have never felt a sense of collective shame for my fellow citizens misdemeanours and I wish others would cease to drag me into such cringe making nonsense - Fonterra is a private for profit and now partially liisted financial maunfacturing co-op entity - not my problem.

Stephen.agree it isnt your problem.However if you are a net taxpayer you may feel some "effect" indirectly if Fonterra(and other affected parties) decide to go Ag Research for costs/brand damage due to their testing incompettance.Some of the MSM may also be in the gun for promoting fiction not fact.Although there is nothing new there.

Hey, isnt it always a case of privatising the profits and socialising the losses? - I might despair that there is a general acceptance of constant collective dumping of costs upon the citizens, but I feel no responsibility or duty of  moral care for the outcomes of such private blunders.

If you think  on it now  Stephen H......it's a win, win for John Boy....just imagine the hero he'll be if he can somehow persuade the nasty  Corporate not to sue.....he can cut them some tax relief cake...prove to the citizenry that Corporates have a heart....greasy business indeed.
oh there's gonna be some socialising alright.......and step two three four...slide two three four

Someone who ought to know told me more than a week ago that there would be no traces of Clostridium botulinum found in the whey protein, so it all appears to have been a big fuss about nothing very much.
Allan could you elaborate please...?.....would be no traces found   was a definitive statement based on what...?
Not ,I think there will be no traces.... but there will be no traces.....? someone who should know...?
Dd they not then apprise Fonterra there would be no need for retesting as they knew the result already....
or have the "independent testers "sprung a leak..?

The damage to our image abroad has been incalculable.
So what exact image has been damaged.
Is it the image of thousands of litres of water from AFFCO and Fonterra being let loose into the Waikato river,
could it be the image of a typical nz town on a Saturday night being full of drunks or what.
Most of the countries that halted our goods - China, Russia and Sri Lanka -  don't exactly have great records on human rights, and as far as food production goes, don't thousands of people die every year in these countries from tainted food and alcohol products? 
 
 
clean recor
 
 

So Fonterra’s botulism contamination problem wasn’t a problem after all according to the tests conducted for the Ministry for Primary Industries.
 
Sorry Alan but I think you miss the point. There was contamination, and by a species of Clostridium that can cause botulisum - but fortunately a strain lacking the gene that produces botulinum neurotoxin.
 
PATHOGENICITY/TOXICITY: Pathogenic species are not invasive; however, certain strains of Clostridium, such as C. septicum, C. sordellii, C. novyi, C. hemolyticum, C. tetani, and C. baratii, produce toxins that cause symptoms and lesions associated with infection, particularity intestinal and foodborne diseases Footnote 6. Unique strains of C. baratii and C. butyricum can, in addition to C. botulinum and C. argentinense (formerly C. botulinum type G) produce botulinum neurotoxin.
 
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/lab-bio/res/psds-ftss/clostridium-spp-eng.php

Quite so Colin, just been doing a spot of reading on irradiation and thermal treatment of whey proteins to inhibit the development of the bloom that produces the toxin..... a bit above me I must say ....but the gist of it is it's presence  ( or potential to develop) is rendered benign through process.
 Now I'm not up on  Fronterra's treatment of whey solids, perhaps you could save me some reading..!
If I .....get it....it's not that it isn't possible for this to have occured, it's just reduced to highly unlikely provided stringent treatment proceedures are followed then checked. 

Not sure I am qualified to comment Christov.
 
WPC is a relatively minor product for NZ - normally more of a byproduct after fat and some lactose has been removed for other purposes.
 
How much WPC was involved? Only 40 tonnes across 3 batches. Common powder dryers process 10-15 tonnes per hour of WMP/SMP. Drying WPC is possibly slower but we are hardly talking about a major part of production.
 
If you have spores I doubt normal processing controls them:
 
PHYSICAL INACTIVATION: Spores of the genus Clostridium are generally heat resistant Footnote 18, Footnote 20 and can withstand temperature of 116 °C for 3 hours, whereas there vegetative cells can be rapidly killed by temperatures of only 55 to 65 °C Footnote 20. Spore can, however, be killed by saturated steam under pressure of 15 pounds at 121 °C Footnote 21. Spores can also be killed by moist heat at 100 °C in 29 minutes when suspended in pH 7 and in 11 minutes when suspended in pH 10.2 or 4.1 Footnote 20.

Ta Colin....appreciate the info.

Bunch..? zany..? bunch...? not a collective to be envisioned.

... that's kind of a " South Park " moment there , isn't it .... in lieu of roses , coming home with a bunch of dead babies instead ...
 
And then developing your own stem cell laboratory in the garage .....
 
... speaking of roses , I am seriously missing Amanda around here , very much so ...

Yes Amanda..... is missed, but no sending bunches of you know whats...ok !,
Hey ! Ralph's stayed on  so that can't be all bad , Goodvibes went, but he was frightfully cool and suave to boot, so no I'm not missing Stanley... 

... and Walter ... me old sparring partner Kunst would've been pleased to see how well manufacturing is making a resurgence in NZ circa 2013  ...

Amen to that GBH...bless him.

Fonterra have been issuing media statements claiming the felt this was the case all along, that the original testing when scrutinized would be found  incorrect.......but that the recall proceedure had to be observed in the public interest.
That proceedure appears to have included the sacking of ( whasshisname )and two further managers.....for what exactly...?
 In the words of Key  "If you have nothing to hide ,you've nothing to fear"....so why did Fonterra dismiss the persons concerned when , as they lead us to believe, they would be found innocent of any proceedural errors in the treatment of Whey Protein and associated products..?
I mean if this rings true to you out there, your more accepting than I am. ...Somewhere in this I suspect there is the lesser of two evils , inso far as potential outcomes.
From an export GDP bottom line, point of view , for the Govt to be at fault and effectively get the taxpayer sued would truly appear the best outcome.
Now just the nuts n bolts of who comes out shinning to be cleared up. 

AB, isn't there a story in that AgResrach and MPI global experts can't both be right... please don't leave us hanging....
The original tests were carried out by AgResearch which still stands by its test results, but according to MPI’s tests by global experts, the whey protein contained a different gene from the Clostridium botulinum.
 
... a number of people have been asking for the science and production and testing process/ procedure steps to be made clear...
this has not changed, now the need to know of AgResearch and MPI's global expert is even more so.
 

Good points Henry, but you can get two different and correct answers if you start with test materials that are not identical.
 
Test results are meaningless without knowing what is being tested. Even something a simple as whether samples are from within the the start or tail of a production run could make a difference.
 
What I would like to know more than anything else is information on the source material for testing.

Only a mug would ever have believed the 100% pure spin and it has always seemed to me to be a very provocative line - just begging to be undone. I have been around dairying and ag all my life; it is a very dirty business. If any townies don't believe me, drive up a tanker-race one day to the shed and have a look around. Go about noon, most plants are deserted then, don't touch anything and leave immediately if told to. It (dairying) does need strict regulation and it should never have been placed into the hands of a monopoly in 2001. And, it was Botulism and should have been detected before distribution.  
Ergophobia   

Bring a bin liner if you come to my shed, you can help bring it up to the standard acceptable to ergophobia.

Christov
Sorry, but I don't disclose sources at any time. There must have been the word going round those close to the action that the tests were showing up negative for Clostriidium botulinam, but not conclsuive enough at that stage to make a firm statement on the issue. I know nothing more about it.
Regards
Allan

I appreciate your response on it Allan and respect the Sources credo,  but I maintain, close to the action would have to be in the room with the dish, and leaking like a sieve given your statement of  "would find no"
Thank you for ....a.....response.