NZ needs to learn from botulism scare


The New Zealand China Trade Association (NZCTA) is urging industry and Government to work together to learn serious lessons from the Fonterra botulism scare.  Official reviews have yet to be published, but the NZCTA is encouraging its members to continue to monitor the situation with respect to the China market.


“There is no doubt that the incident has damaged New Zealand’s image as a source of safe, high quality food products and the implications of this have been felt in terms of earnings for a number of our members, and this is unlikely to be fully resolved until New Zealand can prove that it has adequate systems in place to safeguard the industry and export markets” says Association Chairman Tim White.


White explains, “Our job is to support our members through what is a very challenging time.  We’re still keenly awaiting the formal reports and it would be inappropriate to comment fully until all the facts are known, but we’ve already seen that this situation has again highlighted that the ‘she’ll be right attitude’ won’t work.”


Indeed, New Zealand industry has been under scrutiny – both in China and around the world.  The botulism scare dominated world business news headlines, and called into question NZ’s clean, green branding.Along with the recent meat documentation issue and “apple rot incident”, it has also demonstrated the intrinsic complications of trading perishable foodstuffs and perhaps underlined the need for NZ to diversify its exports.


Prime Minister Key’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali over the weekend shows how important the issue is to the Chinese leadership. According to Prime Minister Key the President was well briefed on the matter and had pressed the importance of food safety standards in China.


Whilst there is a shared sense of relief that this was a false alarm, the NZCTA recognises the frustrations felt by some of its members at the financial impact this period of limbo has caused.  However, it stresses the importance of patience and of taking a longer-term view.  While there are already some learning that can be taken from the recent events, “There’s no point making knee-jerk temporary fixes,” says White.  “Once all the information from the various reviews is available, that’s the time to act decisively”.  Our overseas partners will expect to see a confident response from New Zealand with assurances that our food and beverage supply chain is robust going forward.


What is not in doubt is that continued strong relations with China are essential to the NZ economy.“The opportunity is still there, it hasn’t gone away, but we will need to do better, much better” says White