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Food Safety Apologist's response to corn 'woeful'

27 July, 2004

Food Safety Apologist's response to corn crisis 'woeful'

Consumer confidence in the agency charged with protecting New Zealand's food supply is being undermined by the woefully inadequate response by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority to the importation of lead-contaminated corn, Green MP and Food Safety spokesperson Sue Kedgley said today.

"At first the Authority dithered, then they refused to tell us what products contain the lead-contaminated cornflour, and now they're denying the health risks associated with lead. This is simply not acceptable.

"I repeat my call for the Authority to publish the names of all 30 products containing contaminated flour and the test results for all them, so that consumers can be sure of each product's safety. It's time the Authority stopped putting the interests of the food industry ahead of consumers and their right to know," she said.

Ms Kedgley said that the answers given by Associate Health Minister Damien O'Conner - answering on behalf of the absent Annette King - to her Parliamentary questions today were farcical.

"His answers in the House today were completely dissatisfactory and indicative of the way the Food Safety Authority has handled the corn contamination case," she said.

"It is farcical to describe the Authority's testing regime as 'robust' when they only discovered the lead contamination 'by accident' in a random survey they conduct every five or six years. It is equally farcical to suggest that it had 'acted swiftly' on the issue when it took them ten days to admit to the contamination."

Ms Kedgley said she was concerned at the way the Authority continued to downplay the risks to the public of consuming lead-contaminated food.

"Scientific research, such as a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concludes that any lead exposure whatsoever can lead to irreversible intellectual impairment in children. So why does the Authority and the Minister persist in falsely telling New Zealanders that there are no short or long-term effects from consuming cornflour contaminated with lead?

"The recall today of Edmonds Fielder cornflour is proof that the corn contamination crisis is deepening," Ms Kedgley said. "This is a popular household product and its withdrawal will have many New Zealander reaching in fear for the pantry.

"Of particular concern are children who have eaten significant amounts of corn over the last six months. For example, I was phoned by an anxious father whose daughter has a glycogen storage disease that requires her to eat corn every two hours.

"These parents can take no comfort from the Authority's false claim that cornflour would only be taken in small doses and is therefore harmless," she said.

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