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Q+A Panel Discussion - In response to Nathan Guy Interview

Q + A
PANEL DISCUSSION 1
Hosted by SUSAN WOOD
In response to Nathan Guy Interview

SUSAN Welcome now to our panel – political scientist Dr Raymond Miller from Auckland University, former Labour candidate Josie Pagani, and former Labour MP and ACT leader Richard Prebble. And if I can get to you, Raymond, it sounds like we are going to get some officials up to China, which has got to be a good idea, it seems, at this point.

Dr RAYMOND MILLER – Political Scientist
Yes, we’ve heard a lot of words of political spin and relief over the last few days, because, really, this should not be underestimated. This has been a very very serious issue for New Zealand agriculture and for the New Zealand economy generally. And the truth of the matter is, of course, that the blame will have to be shared around quite a bit because, you know, we have these blazing headlines around the world about, you know, the botulism in relation to New Zealand agriculture. And that was all very well, but now that we know that little if no harm is being done, those sorts of headlines, if there are headlines at all, are on the back page of the newspaper.

SUSAN Exactly.

RAYMOND So people are still associating New Zealand products with botulism, and that’s a serious thing. I think you’re right that we must question the science that’s gone into this, and I think also the communications and PR that came out of Fonterra when the scare was first broken – really incredibly incompetent, I might say, on the part of Fonterra. And thirdly, I think the Government has to take some responsibility, because we haven’t been putting the effort into research and development, both in terms of government spending and business spending over the last few years, and I think we’re paying for that now.

JOSIE PAGANI – Former Labour Candidate
I think it’s more than just science. I mean, the way he should’ve answered that question is to say that back in March, as I understand it, AgResearch spotted some sort of bacteria –Clostridium bacteria – that turned out not to be botulism, that can spoil food.

SUSAN I think it was Fonterra’s people found it first, they sent it out to AgResearch to check it out, and then they got this finding.

JOSIE And they took ages to get the results, so—

SUSAN Which was ultimately not the right finding, and then we’ve got to send it off to the US to check it. Why don’t we have that science here?

JOSIE So Fonterra— The science is one problem, and certainly it’s not coordinated. It’s all over the place. But in terms of who does what— But the other problem, of course, is that back in March, I don’t know why Fonterra didn’t just quarantine that 38 tonne of whey before it reached the market and say, ‘We’re just going to check.’ Now, that’s what Westland did only a couple of weeks ago, which is a smaller dairy company. They acted by the book. Traces of nitrate – they traced the product, they quarantined it, they told MPI, they told the public. Turns out there was no food safety—

SUSAN Because, Richard Prebble—

JOSIE …and they get brownie points for that.

SUSAN There is no doubt that the spotlight is on us now. We can’t get away. I was reading some history documents about exporting. You know we used to put meat in sacks a hundred years ago – there was no refrigeration – and off we sent it, you know, on ships. It was very different the way we did—

RICHARD PREBBLE – Former Labour MP and ACT Party leader
Never did my grandmother any harm, either.

JOSIE Richard remembers that.

RICHARD However, we might not agree about anything else from now on—

JOSIE I hope not, Richard.

RICHARD …but I completely agree with you and so does Fonterra. When they have 38 tonnes of whey, which is not worth very much, found there was bacteria levels above what it normally was, they should have just dumped it. And now they wish they’d done that. That would have saved us hundreds of millions. But on the question of the scientific tests, it may well prove to be the case that this is your— when you go to your own doctor and they do a test to see what’s wrong with you, then they say, ‘Oh, we’ve got to wait a while.’ Why is that? Because they’ve got to grow it. And I suspect that they had such tiny quantities of bacteria that in order to find out what it really was, they needed to wait and grow it, and that’s why we’ve had these delays. But the real question is why was there bacteria in the first place? Shouldn’t have been there. Doesn’t matter what it is – dump it. And I’m sure that in the future that’s what Fonterra is going to do. The Government’s not going to get off this completely clean, because the recall was a mess, and part of the reason it’s a mess is Fonterra was saying one thing and the Government was saying a different one. Remember those cans and they couldn’t make up their minds which cans do we pull back—?

SUSAN It was confusing. It was a complete shambles, and—

RICHARD That’s a shambles, isn’t it?

SUSAN What will be interesting is the long-term damage. Thank you, panel. We will leave it there.

ENDS

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