China warns NZ to retain 100% pure image on environment

China's Consul General in New Zealand Niu Qingbao has warned New Zealand's Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye and Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings at a forum in Auckland that New Zealand should be even more open on food safety and environment issues to maintain its '100% Pure' image.

Speaking at an New Zealand Asian Leaders forum in Auckland, Consul General Niu offered his advice to Kaye and Spierings after they spoke about the false positive Botulism scare last year and the controversy around New Zealand's use of DCD before that.

Kaye, in particular, asked whether New Zealand should have been more prominent in publicising its use of DCD as a nitrate reducing technology before it showed up in test results, forcing farmers to stop using DCD.

"The minister solicited advice on how to avoid being penalised for being open, as on the DCD issue," Consul General Niu said after Kaye and Spierings had spoken.

"You could be even more open. DCD happened and then the audience was told this was a good technology for the environment. If this was given out before the tests then people would know New Zealand is very serious, not only on food safety, but also on environment, that you are prepared," Consul General Niu said, adding that he agreed New Zealand had a strong track record on safety.

"You are doing a good enough job, but I really don't think good enough is good enough," he said.

"As a country so reliant on primary industries, New Zealand really needs to maintain its '100% Pure' and safety image. If this image is dented it could be very hard to make up for it. Food safety is always number 1," he said.

Consul General Niu also said New Zealand needed to keep its communications lines open.

"China expects no surprises. We expect that things will happen in any country and any industry. Just in case anything happens, keep the line of communication straight forward and constant. If we can handle this perfectly, there won't be any problems we can't solve," he said.

Earlier, Kaye and Spierings had spoken about the impact the botulism false positive scare had on Fonterra and the Government and their efforts to rebuild trust in New Zealand's food safety reputation.

Spierings said he had managed operations in crisis situations before in Indonesia and Nigeria, but the botulism test was his most difficult crisis. He defended Fonterra's decision to announce the preliminary positive test result for clostridium botulinum and recall over 2,200 tonnes of products in 23 markets that included the affected 38 tonnes of Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC).

'Never down-play it'

"I knew as a father of children, I can't take that risk, knowing this product was in baby food," Spierings said.

He described how Fonterra had learned "never to downplay" such issues and how he had immediately travelled to China to talk personally to officials and customers. He had since met with more than 5,000 business leaders around the world to explain Fonterra's decision and subsequent actions, and to talk about the "elephant in the room" of the botulism test results.

"Never downplay it and never declare victory because that downplays trust and respect," he said.

Kaye went on to detail the Government's response, including that half of cabinet had met within 24 hours of hearing the test results to respond.

"It was our alpine fault of food safety," she said, adding that if a baby had died, "we may as well have kissed 20% of New Zealand's GDP goodbye."