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New food industry group to tackle dairy traceability

A new food industry working group will be set up to improve dairy traceability after Fonterra’s botulism scare last August.

“The independent government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) Contamination Incident highlighted the importance of effective systems for dairy traceability,” Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says.  

“The inquiry recommended lifting the dairy sector’s ability to trace products and ingredients through a working group focusing on regulatory and worldwide best practices.”

The announcement also comes in the wake of National Business Review exposing the worrying extent of the grey trade in New Zealand milk powder that has led, in part, to Chinese authorities effectively taking over the regulation and auditing of exports to China.

“Improving the traceability of dairy products will further protect the public in the event of a suspected food safety issue,” Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye said at the launch.

The working group will be headed by independent chairman Dr John Larkindale, who is a former New Zealand high commissioner to Australia, Deputy Head of Mission in Beijing and Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

He also has a science background, with a PhD from McGill University in Montréal, Canada.

“The working group will include representatives from the dairy and wider food industries and will investigate possible changes to regulations and industry practices to improve food and ingredient traceability,” Ms Kaye says.

The traceability working group will report to Primary Industries Ministry director-general Martyn Dunne. 

Members will be appointed from:

  • Food and Grocery Council
  • New Zealand Retailers Association
  • GS1 New Zealand
  • Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ) representative of large-scale manufacturers
  • DCANZ representative of small-scale producers of retail-ready dairy products
  • Infant Nutrition Council
  • New Zealand Infant Formula Exporters’ Association
  • One member each from MPI and AsureQuality

“MPI advises me that the group’s membership will be finalised this month and it will have its first meeting in March to determine its terms of reference and work programme, including timeframes for reporting back,” Ms Kaye says.

More by Jamie Ball

Comments and questions

Who/what is GS1?

1977: The European Article Numbering (EAN) Association is established
1990: The Uniform Code Council (UCC) and EAN International (GS1) sign a cooperative agreement
2005: A new name for the organisation, GS1, is launched worldwide.

Most companies initially come to GS1 to get a bar code number for their products. ... The current architecture of GS1 standards is as follows:

Identify: Standards for the identification of items, locations, shipments, assets, etc.. and associated data
Capture: Standards for encoding and capturing data in physical data carriers such as barcodes and RFID tags
Share: Standards for sharing data between parties

It will tie in with the provisions of the Food Bill, particularly in regard to enforcement and penalties for breaches:

New Zealand’s food legislation applies to all food for sale in New Zealand and food that is exported. ...
The Bill will considerably strengthen the Government’s enforcement powers by: clarifying that food manufactured for export is covered by the legislation – this is unclear under the current regime.
The Food Bill will also considerably strengthen the penalties that can be given for the worst offences that put people’s health at risk or undermine New Zealand’s export reputation, making them among the toughest sanctions in the developed world.

I question Dr Larkindale''s independence since he and Martyn Dunne are virtually former colleagues, aren't they? True independence is not always easy to find, however, there may be academics working in this field who could perhaps have fitted the description better IMO.

According to Radio NZ news, "a scientist and diplomat, Dr John Larkindale, has been appoint to chair the traceability group."

As far as I know, Dr Larkindale OBE has never exercised the profession of scientist but has been a career civil servant all his life until retirement. According to the public record, he gained a PhD in organic chemistry and then went directly into the public service. However, I stand to be corrected if I am wrong. The qualification and experience will be valuable no doubt but do not make him a scientist. He could perhaps be considered a scientist by training but not in the literal sense.

Xinhua has reported the working party - good.

The New Zealand government announced Tuesday that it has set up a working group to improve dairy product traceability ...
- it will be interesting to see the outcome.

Dr Larkindale is president of IPANZ, the Institute of Public Administration and was awarded QSO not OBE (my mistake). He has excellent diplomatic credentials including service in Beijing and Moscow:

A long-time public servant and diplomat, John joined the (then) Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1972. In the course of his career, he served in New Zealand Embassies in Vienna and Washington, before becoming Director of Pacific aid in the Ministry in Wellington and then Tokelau Official Secretary. Later he was Deputy Head of Mission in both Beijing and London, before taking on the role of Executive Director of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Task Force in 1994. He then took up the position of Ambassador, Moscow, returning to Wellington at the conclusion of that assignment. In 2002 he became Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

John was born in Wellington and educated at Wellington College, Victoria University of Wellington (BSc; MSc (Hons)) and McGill University, Montreal, Canada (PhD). He was awarded a QSO in 1996.
New President for IPANZ

Very light weight,particularly on the political side.
Let's hope they can do something useful.
paleo martin

Lightweight? interesting comment ...

Other possible nominations for consideration could be Lincoln's Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit/Keith Woodford, Auckland's New Zealand Asia Institute's Hugh Whittaker, Waikato Management School's Frank Scrimgeour. What do we have these business research centres for? Or current head of Crop and Food, Peter Landon-Lane.

Someone of comparable standing to Chen Xiwen, director of the Central Rural Work Leading Group, a position at ministerial level, ...

Would you prefer to see involvement from the NZ-China Council and/or NZ-USA Council to provide higher political profile? these bodies seem largely ceremonial. Or should there be input from Chambers of Commerce? What would you suggest?

The Institute of Public Administration has instituted a new award for excellence in regulatory systems:
The Awards celebrate and reward public sector excellence, across eight award categories. ... “A new award category for 2014 is Excellence in Regulatory Systems.
- traceability is part of this so there is synergy here. Good.
- still a danger of window-dressing and whitewashing without incisive analysis IMO.

-> There is a need for more independence and greater technical literacy from this enquiry. Perhaps it could be reframed as an expert panel reporting directly to Ministers or be handed over to the Productivity Commission ...

Let's look at our Chilean counterparts who have had to lift their game to meet US market requirements and whose food exports to China are growing steadily:
Chile today has all of the tools and technologies to achieve traceability for its agriculture and livestock, enabling the nation to set itself apart from competitors and ensure food safety. But we need to take a step further to turn ourselves into an agricultural power.

The Chinese are also struggling with traceability in their exports:
The statistics under the RAPEX-China system, which facilitates joint EU-China action to address safety
issues with products originating in China, have also made it clear that there are problems with
traceability. Not being able to trace the manufacturer of the product is a major reason why the
Chinese authorities cannot take corrective actions or stop dangerous goods at source. (2011)