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Right to reply

Fonterra: Why we need to talk about what's in our food

By Theo Spierings, CEO of Fonterra Co-operative Group , 14-Feb-2013

Last week, we published a critique of Fonterra's actions during the DCD furore, which saw lengthy delays between identifying the presence of minute quantities of the chemical in the company's milk. Having requested a right to reply, Fonterra's CEO talks exclusively about the wider DCD debate.

Being on the frontline of discovering residues and additives in milk—or any foods for that matter—is not an easy place for any food company, particularly when you are the first to raise the flag on an issue about which little is known.

We will never shy away from this and we can’t. Fonterra has some of the most advanced food safety standards and test methods available in New Zealand, so it is inevitable that we will have to take a leadership position and be at the forefront of these issues. 

DCD was used by some New Zealand farmers to improve environmental performance. As part of our constant focus on food safety and new developments in testing methodologies we took note, and action, when the US FDA developed test methods for detecting a range of compounds, including DCD. 

The levels of DCD detected in the testing of our products were minute and at such low levels—100 times lower than even the recommended acceptable daily intake levels for Europe—that we immediately knew there was no food safety issue. The ongoing independent testing on our products reconfirms this.

At the same time we were conscious that there is no global standard for DCD in any food. Without a common standard we felt there was the potential for an inconsistent approach by food regulators around the world.

The New Zealand Government’s Ministry for Primary Industries formed a working group involving ourselves, other representatives of the New Zealand dairy industry and the fertiliser companies to look into the issue. It was an industry working group of senior management and technical experts, formed to assess the international science and develop a position. 

As a result of the formation of this group, and in the absence of a common international position, the two fertiliser companies decided to remove products containing DCD from the New Zealand market. There is still work to do to develop an agreed international position around DCD in food and we fully support this.

DCD is now on the agenda with Global Dairy Platform and IDF. It needs to be. We are raising issues about a residue a number of companies in the world would not be in a position to test for in the first place.

That said, we know that this issue has raised some questions for other food companies and regulators and we are committed to working together with the industry to provide the answers.

The discovery of trace residues of DCD raises bigger issues for all of us in the food industry.

All of us need to act quickly if there’s a food safety issue.  But as an industry we also need to be able to raise and debate issues around what’s in our food, deal in the facts, and be in a position to ensure we get the right result for consumers.

Have your say: What do you make of Fonterra's response, and what wider issues do you foresee coming from this DCD episode? Let us know in the box below.