A1 and A2 Milk, and the Slorach Review of NZFSA
29 April 2008
A1 and A2 Milk, and the Slorach Review of Risk Management Procedures within NZFSA
The Slorach Review released today (29April 2008) by Minister Lianne Dalziel and NZFSA head Dr Andrew McKenzie lets NZFSA off very lightly. But it does confirm that there was a lack of transparency associated with the release of Professor Swinburn’s Report in 2004, and that some of NZFSA’s actions are difficult to justify.
The report notes that NZFSA’s release saying that all milk was safe was at the very least open to misinterpretation. Dr Slorach makes clear that this ‘safety’ could only be correct if referring to food safety sickness and hospitalization rather than relating to long term health conditions. This distinction was totally obscured in the NZFSA press release at the time Swinburn’s review was released. This distinction is a huge issue.
As Slorach says, there is considerable debate within the scientific community about the health issues of A1 beta-casein.
Professor Swinburn, from Deakin University in Australia and former Medical Director of the NZ Heart Foundation, has made it very explicit that he purposefully never used the word ‘safe’. He also expressed privately to NZFSA at the time, in correspondence subsequently released under the Official Information Act, that NZFSA had used ‘spin’ in relation to the release of his report.
Professor Swinburn has recently strengthened his position about the merits of shifting New Zealand’s dairy herds to A2. In an open letter to all dairy farmers on 14 April 2008 his opening statement was: ‘The time to change the NZ dairy herd to A2 is right now.’ In doing this he took into account both the potential high benefits to public health and the low cost of making the shift.
The Slorach review now recommends to NZFSA that they should place a greater emphasis on precautionary issues. This is notable given that NZFSA advised Professor Swinburn not to refer to the precautionary principle because of associated ‘European baggage’.
The Slorach report is a constructive report. It makes numerous points as to how NZFSA can do better. Readers need to understand that the report was undertaken in very close association with NZFSA officials to the extent that they accompanied him on his visits around New Zealand. Dr Slorach was also the nominee of NZFSA head Dr McKenzie. So the report is external but not necessarily independent.
Dr Slorach is recommending improvements to procedures. But there also needs to be higher operational standards within NZFSA. Dr McKenzie, in originally announcing the review last October said that the aim was to ‘bury the issue once and for all’. He also said that the aim was to ensure NZFSA’s public credibility. Whether or not NZFSA can learn from its mistakes has yet to be proven.
A copy of the Swinburn Open letter to all farmers and published in Straight Furrow” is available by going to www.straightfurrow.co.nz and searching on ‘swinburn’.
Various reports relating to A1 and A2 including analysis of NZFSA behaviours relating to A1/A2 are available from www.lincoln.ac.nz/story1057.html