Monday, August 05, 2013

The real threat

While John Key is scaremongering about terrorists in an effort to ram through intrusive and over-reaching spy legislation, the real threat to New Zealand seems to have passed completely unnoticed. I'm talking of course about Fonterra's poor sanitation, which has resulted in New Zealand dairy products being banned in at least two countries, falling share prices and a collapsing dollar - and that's just the start. In the long-term we could be looking at a decline in overall exports. The effects have been far more devastating than any terrorist attack. But I guess basic food safety just isn't as sexy as people thinking they're James Bond.

And as with last time, Fonterra's natural inclination seems to have been to try and launch a cover-up:

The dairying giant knew something was wrong as long as ago as March, but only informed the Government of the issue on Friday after realising last week the scale of the problem, which has been traced back to a dirty pipe at a plant in Hautapu, Waikato.

And this remember is for botulism, which is potentially fatal. But rather than worrying about people's lives, they worried about the effects full disclosure would have on their share price and exports. And the result is that when it inevitably came out, all those effects were compounded by a crisis of trust. Dicks.

Meanwhile, the undetected manufacture and export of contaminated food is a fundamental failure of our food safety system. How can detecting a potentially lethal bacteria take ten months? How can not immediately responding to such detection with a recall not be a crime? There are serious gaps here, almost certainly the result of cost-cutting and deregulation, and they need to be remedied. Quite apart from the basic issue of public safety, as a food exporter we live and die by our reputation for clean food. Fonterra's lack of basic hygiene has destroyed that reputation. We need to make sure that it is not allowed to happen in the future.