Botulism scare a false alarm for Fonterra

The batch of contaminated whey protein concentrate from dairy giant Fonterra has turned out to have been wrongly identified as a potentially causing botulism.

Acting director for the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, Scott Gallacher said that testing completed both in New Zealand and the United States indicated that the organism in question was in fact clostridium sporogenes – which is usually associated with food spoilage and holds no food safety risk, the Weekly Times Now reports.

Fonterra raised the alarm earlier this month in belief that five batches of the contaminated whey product – which is used in the company’s infant baby formula products and sports drinks – could contain a bacterium capable of causing the potentially fatal paralytic illness.

The alarm led to a widespread recall around the globe with several countries halting supply of the company’s products.

Gary Romano, managing director of Fonterra also resigned from his position a few weeks after the botulism scare was announced.

The Ministry of Primary Industries stated that while the botulism scare appeared to be a false alarm, hygiene issues relating to the processing of whey protein concentrate ‘remains a concern for customers’.

The pipe which has been identified as the cause of the contamination has since been decommissioned.


SKI gets pink makeover to support McGrath Foundation

From September 9, three varieties of SKI yoghurt will be given a pink makeover in support of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

As part of a three year commitment to the McGrath Foundation, SKI has pledged to donate $350,000 to fund a McGrath Breast Care Nurse in the local community.

Kylea Tink, CEO of the McGrath Foundation said that SKI’s commitment to the foundation will provide invaluable assistance to people in rural and regional Australia.

“It’s a beautiful synergy – farming communities helping to provide SKI® to supermarkets and consumers giving back to the communities that need it most if ever they require the support of a McGrath Breast Care Nurse,” said Tink.

The three varieties of yoghurt to receive the makeover include:

  • SKI Dilite – a 99 percent fat free yoghurt
  • SKI Divine – made from thick whole milk
  • SKI Soleil – a no fat option with less than one percent sugar


Murray Goulburn to look offshore for funding

Victorian dairy giant, Murray Goulburn has said that they will be looking to international investors to support dairy farms in an effort to avoid the big banks.

The move would see the co-operative bypass traditional bank lending as the company has identified external foreign capital as a key funding strategy for struggling famers.

The co-operative recently launched the Murray Goulburn Partnerships program which is designed to attract offshore equity funds to purchase farm land, which will then be leased back to suppliers and shareholders, The Australian reports.

Murray Goulburn Co-operative general manager of shareholder relations Robert Poole, said that traditional methods of bank funding have remained unchanged for the past 50 years, are not sustainable for farmers.

"A lot of the banks are still funding agriculture like they did in the 1950s and 60s, with 50 per cent equity and mums and dads borrowing money," said Poole.

"That is, I think, going to rapidly change and I think the banks are going to be involved in that or they are not. Because the external capital is inevitably going to come.

"Overseas investors are taking a more positive long-term view of agriculture than what a lot of local banks and superfunds are."

Industry experts have said that the banks have become increasingly more ‘nervous’ when it comes to ethical obligations in the agricultural sector, however Elder’s Australian network group manager David Goodfellow, says that banks have been making ‘very sensible decisions’ when it comes to agricultural funding.

"There is every reason there could have been panic and mayhem in the north," he said.

"But generally the response from the banks has been mature and orderly. It could have got completely out of control. I genuinely take my hat off to the banks for their behaviour through these times."

Robert Poole acknowledges that banks may have reservations when it comes to agricultural funding, however he syays that they should still support the sector where possible.

"We've had some large dairy farms go into administration this year. We understand that sometimes happens," said Poole.”But we would encourage the banks to be careful, act early, support the farmers absolutely where they can."

According to Poole, the co-operative has sold a dozen dairy farms to a European superannuation fund under MG Partnerships program.

"We use our status to bring external funding into the sector, farmers bring projects to us where they want to buy a farm next door through equity rather than debt. And we marry that up — we sit as a corporate counter-party in the middle," he said.

"We have strong interest at the moment from offshore. The sector is looking good. The Australian funds are starting to look at it too, now."


Bruny Island Cheese Co named Business of the Year

Tasmanian cheese brand, Bruny Island Cheese Co, has been named the 2013 Telstra Australian Business of the Year.

The first Tasmanian business to win the award, Bruny Island Cheese Co was praised not only for the quality of its products, but for the role it plays in sustaining local agri-tourism and supporting dairy farmers in the island community South East of Hobart.

After working with specialist cheesemakers in Europe and Australia, Nick Haddow moved to Tasmania in 2001 to make cheese at Pyengana Dairy Company, before launching Bruny Island Cheese Co in 2003.

Haddow is an advocate and producer of raw milk cheese. "I am a traditionalist who recognises that great cheese was made for centuries before modern technology played a role and I believe passionately in the old way of making, maturing and marketing cheese," he said.

"For me cheesemaking is a pursuit of integrity, authenticity and flavour. There is no substitute for quality. We are only as good as the last batch of cheese we made."

The brand, which also won the Small Business Award at the Telstra Australian Business Awards in Sydney last night, sells on-site, online and through email marketing to its 8300-strong member Cheese Club.

Will Irving, group managing director of Telstra Business and Telstra Business Awards ambassador, said "Bruny Island Cheese Co. is a role model for artisan food businesses in the 21st Century. It has a total focus on quality, customer experience and engagement, both online and onsite, innovation from paddock to plate and care for suppliers, staff, the local community and the environment.

"The awards judges were impressed by its innovative business model – artisan traditions using local produce, manual techniques and craftsmanship yet employing the latest technology in packaging, marketing and sales to provide a ‘sticky' customer experience. It has a very strong commitment to engage other local artisan businesses to leverage the brand which also brings economic sustainability to many local businesses."

US to boost dairy exports says analyst

The US is looking to expand its dairy exports to combat a predicted decline in demand for local domestic dairy products and to capitalise on higher international prices according to Rabobank industry analyst, Tim Hunt.

US dairy consumption has remained steady at 2.5-3.5 percent per annum in recent years however, future predictions see market growth slowing to 1.5-2 percent, the Weekly Times Now reports.

Hunt says that as the world's third largest milk producer, the US has risen its exports from three percent to 10 percent of production in recent years – a growth rate which could potentially impact on Australian exports.

"Maintaining Australia's edge in post farmgate processing and marketing will be crucial to sustain returns on farm," said Hunt.

Although the US has the production capabilities to keep up with rising global demand for dairy products, Hunt says that the move to higher exports will not be an easy ride.

Hunt says that the US currently has limited access to several important markets and many US products are not desired by the global market – for example, orange cheddar which produces red whey.

While in contrast, Australian dairy exporters have access to a number of key markets and a solid reputation throughout Asia.


Murray Goulburn cuts 72 jobs

Murray Goulburn (MG) has confirmed that it will be cutting 72 jobs starting from early September.

The positions will be cut from various plants throughout Victoria including 38 at Cobram, 15 at Leongatha, eight at Kiewa, four at Rochester, three at Koroit and four at Edith Creek in Tasmania.

Keith Mentiplay, MG’s general operations manager said that the decision has not been made lightly, and was vital to ensure the long term success of the business.

"All affected staff will receive their full entitlements and will receive additional support with outplacement, career transitioning services, financial advice and counselling,” said Mentiplay.

"While these decisions are challenging, they are necessary to ensure MG remains competitive. It is in the best interests of our supplier/shareholders, employees, communities, customers and consumers that MG remains a strong business able to compete globally and deliver higher farmgate prices.

"We continue to employ more than 2000 people at Murray Goulburn, mainly in rural and regional Australia and contribute to an estimated $6 billion to the Australian economy."

Murray Goulburn has assured suppliers that the new operational changes will not affect productive capacities.


Victorian town produces its first commercial quantities of organic butter

The first commercial quantities of Australian Organic Dairy Butter have come off a south west Victorian production line as part of a partnership between Organic Dairy Farmers Australia (ODFA) and Aussie Farmers Direct (AFD)

The butter which is made using organic milk from local Victorian farms has created some 30 jobs for the small country Victorian town of Camperdown where the butter factory is located.

At present, ODFA employees 23 local famers  – all of which own a stake in the farmer owned co-operative – who are producing enough milk for 150 tonnes of butter this year, with trails on an unsalted butter having commenced recently.

ODFA CEO Bruce Symons said that the partnership between ODFA and AFD has provided an invaluable opportunity for the local community by creating jobs and utilising previously closed-down processing facilities.

“These farmers invest their considerable energy and efforts into making sure they have healthy soils which translates into pastures holding a plethora of vitamins and minerals for their cows which ultimately produce a truly remarkable milk,” says Symons. 

“We firmly believe if the cows are happy and healthy then the quality of the milk is better. To be able to take this milk and produce the first commercial quantities of organic butter in Australia is really very humbling.”

ODFA also recently launched a biodynamic milk which has proven to be hugely popular in high end cafes and retail outlets.

“A number of the really serious restaurants and cafes have recognised what a difference a high quality milk can make in not just coffee, but as an ingredient in other goods they are making,” he said.

“We’re now in a position where we’re able to provide the market quality products in large quantities and the path from cow to cup is entirely traceable.”

In addition to the organic butter line, Symons says that the co-operative will be looking to add a cheese-making facility and retail store.

“The initial success and rapid uptake of the new, freshly churned butter from the Camperdown site has emboldened the co-op,” he said.

“Already down the road in Timboon we have undertaken a joint venture with renowned French-born cheesemaker Matthieu Megard to make artisan style organic French and Swiss style cheeses, and plans are now in place to expand dairy production at Camperdown or Timboon into other dairy products, and look at retail and a our own cheese-making facility.”


More heads roll at Fonterra following food safety scare

Two senior managers at Fonterra have been placed on leave, following its recent food safety scare, which also saw the resignation of the dairy giant's managing director, Gary Romano.

Fonterra recently issued a warning that an ingredient in its baby formula products and sports drinks could contain a bacterium that can cause botulism.

Thirty-eight tonnes of the whey protein concentrate, manufactured at Fonterra’s Hautapu plant in May 2012, is believed to have been contaminated by an unsanitary pipe. Five batches of the product were affected: three that were warehoused in Auckland, one in Australia and another in transit.

The two senior managers were placed on leave, effective immediately, on 16 August, as the company continues its internal investigations into the circumstances surrounding the product recalls.

An internal operational review is also underway and due to be completed by the end of the month. According to a Fonterra statement, the review is looking into "the transparency of information in the business and how that information is escalated to the appropriate levels."


Doodles’ dairy dupe: product recall

Doodles Creek has recalled its Caesar Dressing from independent grocery stores and delis due to non-compliant labelling.

The Caesar Dressing claims to be 'dairy free' but dairy is in fact listed in the ingredients list. As such, the product has been recalled from independent grocery stores and delis in NSW, ACT, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.

Products with best before dates of 26 September 2013, 3 December 2013 and 25 January 2014 are affected.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand is urging consumers with a dairy allergy or intolerance not to consume the product and to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.


Microbial contamination prompts milk recall

Schulz Organic Farms Full Cream milk is being recalled in Victoria due to  a form of microbial contamination which can cause illness in pregnant women, the elderly and those will low immune systems.

The product, contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, has been recalled from small independent supermarkets and small health foods shops in Victoria.

One and two litre bottles with a use by date of 22 August, 2013 have been affected and consumers who are in possession of the milk are advised to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

pitt&sherry design milk processing plants for Murray Goulburn

Australian engineering consultancy firm, pitt&sherry is designing two state-of-the-art pasteurised milk processing plants for Australian dairy giant, Murray Goulburn Co-operative.

The two new processing plants which are located at Laverton in Victoria and Erskine Park in New South Wales are expected to be commissioned by July 2014. Each facility with be capable of supplying 150m packaged litres of milk annually to Coles as part of a landmark 10 year supplying deal with MGC for the supermarkets private label brands.

Andrew Buckley, National Leader – Food & Beverage at pitt&sherry, said that the company was approached by MGC to deliver the project following the success of the Smithton Dairy Processing Facility in Tasmania where the company met a rigorous design and development  timeline.

Buckley says that similar tight time constraints will also be delivered for Murray Goulburn’s new facilities.

“To aid this we have developed one above ground design that will be duplicated on both sites,” said Buckely.

“This not only reduces the design timeline, but also significantly reduces building construction time and cost,

“All project members have actively collaborated throughout the project to ensure the plants’ whole-of-life environmental, social and financial costs were considered.”

The new plants will incorporate the world’s latest processing technology that will deliver the highest possible quality standards.

Buckey says that he is delighted to be working with Murray Goulburn on the high profile project.

“pitt&sherry has a long standing relationship with MGC, including through the services of our RARE Consulting division, which worked with MGC to deliver one of the first large heavy vehicle fleets to use liquid natural gas as a diesel replacement,” said Buckley.

“The involvement in these two plants has further developed this relationship and established pitt&sherry as one of the major players in the dairy space.”


Fonterra MD quits

Gary Romano, the managing director of New Zealand milk products at dairy giant Fonterra, has resigned, effective immediately.

Chief executive Theo Spierings will assume interim responsibility for the division's operations, Business Spectator reports.

The announcement comes after what's been a challenging couple of weeks for Fonterra, which recently issued a warning that an ingredient in its baby formula products and sports drinks could contain a bacterium that can cause botulism.

The Sri Lankan government has also recalled two batches of Fonterra's milk powder due to allegations the products had been contaminated with a farm chemical called Dicyandiamide.

Fonterra denies the presence of DCD in its milk powders, but was still forced to recall the products.

Murray Goulburn enters coal seam gas debate

Milk processor, Murray Goulburn, is set to release a policy on coal seam gas, the first large agricultural company to take on the controversial issue.

According to weeklytimesnow, Murray Goulburn has been looking into the impact of gas exploration since June.

A year ago, the Victorian government issued a moratorium on coal seam gas exploration licences and the use of hydraulic fracturing, but there are already 11 coal seam gas exploration licences in Gippsland, which covers most of the region's dairy production areas.

Murray Goulburn general manager for shareholder relations Robert Poole said the company is working with stakeholders in the dairy industry and will come up with a position on the matter in the next few months.

Earlier this year, the NSW government approved a two kilometre exclusion zone for new coal seam gas exploration and production activities around residential areas.

The announcement was welcomed by NSW Farmers, but the group said more can be done.

It wants mining of other coals and minerals to be including in the exclusions – not just coal seam gas mining. It also says the policy should apply to projects which haven't yet received approval, and that the buffer should be applied to all areas zoned as residential rather than focusing on population numbers.

NSW Farmers' president, Fiona Simson, said "NSW Farmers has consistently advocated for a measured approach to mining and CSG policy. We believe there are places in this state that are too priceless to put at risk through mining and gas activities."


New UHT milk factory to create 100 jobs

Currently being built in Shepparton, Victoria, a $40 million UHT milk factory is expected to create 100 jobs.

The factory is a joint venture between Australian Consolidated Milk and Freedom Foods Group and will support 200 Goulburn Valley dairy farms, reports ABC Rural.

The UHT milk produced at the Shepparton factory will be destined for the export market.

John Hommes, from ACM, said "It is very hard to export with fresh milk, but with UHT you have got 10 months, which makes it more attractive to take over there."

NZ Prime Minister to visit China after Fonterra contamination probe

NZ's Prime Minister, John Keys, will travel to China to ensure confidence in the country's food industry is restored, following a ministerial inquiry into Fonterra's recent contamination scares.

The inquiry is one of four investigations into why, where and how whey protein used in its baby formula and sports drinks products became contaminated with a bacterium that can cause botulism, a potentially fatal paralytic illness.

Two batches of Fonterra's milk powder have also been recalled in Sri Lanka due to fears they may be contaminated with a farm chemical, Dicyandiamide, which is used to increase agricultural yields.

According to the weeklytimesnow, the New Zealand government is considering putting a Chinese scientist on the inquiry team, with Prime Minister John Keys saying confidence in Fonterra's products needs to be restored.

China is a valuable market for the dairy giant, consuming 90 percent of its baby milk powder products.

Keys said he will travel to China once the inquiry's results are available.

"I need the answers from those inquiries so I can look down the barrel of their cameras and say `have confidence in our products, we've fixed the issues'," he said.


Brownes cleans up at annual Dairy awards

WA’s oldest Dairy, Brownes has taken home a sweep of awards at this years Royal Agricultural Society Dairy Awards.

The company won first prize for its fresh, full-cream milk as well as an additional five first prizes, nine gold medals and 14 silver medals for products across its entire product portfolio including whipping cream, mature cheddar cheese and Greek-style yogurt.

Ben Purcell, managing director of Brownes said that the result is a testiment to the company’s hard working team.

“From our farmers through to our team at the Brunswick and Balcatta Dairies, this award is just a great testimony to our amazing Brownes family and the incredible job we do,” said Purcell.

“Our farmers work in difficult conditions and a testing market, to continually produce fresh, premium, WA milk of the highest quality. It is incredibly rewarding to see that recognised. “

Purcell adds that company’s commitment to product development and excellent supplier relationships is key to securing the success of Brownes for years to come.

 “We are a WA business committed to WA Dairy and we are proving it, day in, day out with our actions,” said Purcell.

“Not only are leading the industry with farm gate price increases to our farmers, but also in the production of fresh, award-winning WA dairy products of the very highest quality. This remains our focus going forward.” 


Fonterra faces new milk contamination scare in Sri Lanka

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra has entered more hot water over another milk contamination scare, this time in Sri Lanka.

The company has recalled two batches of milk powder due to allegations that the products had been contaminated with a farm chemical – Dicyandiamide (DCD) which is used to increase agricultural yields The Australian reports.

Fonterra has denied that its products contain any trace of DCD, however The Sri Lankan government has ordered the recall as it considers DCD to be a potentaily ‘toxic chemical’.

The DCD contamination scare follows a recent recall of Fonterra’s Karicare baby formula which contained whey protein concentrate that had been contaminated with a bacterium that can cause botulism – a potentially fatal paralytic illness.

It was reported that 38 tonnes of the whey protein concentrate which was manufactured at Fonterra’s Hautapu plant in May 2012, was contaminated by an unsanitary pipe.

It is believed that were five batches of the contaminated baby formula in total, each of which have now been located.


Australian Dairy Farmers push for agricultural focus in election

Australia’s peak lobby group for the dairy industry, Australian Dairy Farmers have compiled a wish list as the next federal election draws closer.

The lobby wants politicians to recognise the Australian dairy industries capacity to become a new economic powerhouse, and has suggested the finalisation of free trade agreements, a reduction in power bills and a mandatory code to conduct for supermarkets as key factors that would take the $13b industry to new heights, ABC Rural reports.

Australia’s capacity to cater to Asia’s increasing desire for dairy products has been well documented and offers a valuable opportunity to increase the sector’s export capacity which currently sits at $2.7b.

President of Australian Dairy Farmers, Noel Campbell says that a free trade agreement with China, similar to what New Zealand has in place, would enable the nation to become far more competitive.

The introduction of mandatory code of conduct for supermarkets is also high on the agenda.

A voluntary code of conduct which was designed to manage relationship between suppliers and the two supermarket giants, Coles and Woolworths, initially included the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) in negotiations.

However the group decided to drop out of talks in March this year sighting that a voluntary code would do little to protect farmers’ interests and instead called for the introduction of a mandatory code – which is an opinion that the Australian Dairy Farmers also hold.

In addition, Campbell says that easier access to foreign seasonal workers and travellers on holiday visas would also help producers increase production capacities.

"We are currently not deemed as a seasonal-type industry, (but it) certainly is in Victoria and Tasmania, where there's more seasonal calving," he said.

"The ability to get someone, the same person for three months, year on year, would be helpful."


Fonterra crisis dents NZ’s ‘100 percent Pure’ image

Although Fonterra has tracked down the contaminated whey protein used in some varieties of infant milk formula, and batches of affected products exported to countries such as China have been pulled off supermarket shelve​s, the long-term ramifications for New Zealand’s image as a safe producer of food and beverages could be severe.

The incident is the third food quality problem to have hit New Zealand’s largest business venture, and the world’s largest exporter of dairy products, in the past five years. In 2008 a jointly-owned company in China was implicated in a melamine contamination scandal which resulted in nearly 300,000 infants becoming ill and six dying. In January this year dairy farmers had to stop spraying the anti-water pollution chemical dicyanimide onto pastures after traces were found in New Zealand milk.

In recent months meat exports to China have been held up twice because of certification errors and Zespri, the country’s largest kiwifruit exporter, was implicated in a scam to avoid paying full Chinese import duties.

A study, which some of my colleagues co-authored, casts some light on why mistakes by food and beverage exporters could have wider ramifications for New Zealand’s broader image. The researchers discovered that imported milk brands that were perceived to have closer business relationships to the guilty domestic brand implicated in the Chinese melamine scandal in 2008 were more likely to be considered by consumers to be guilty by association than more distant brands.

If one extrapolates this finding to a wider country context, then guilt by association could influence overseas consumers’ perceptions of New Zealand’s clean and green image. The possible impact would have to be assessed through market research, but one could hypothesise that the level of negativity is likely to be related to how closely overseas customers and visitors associate problematic New Zealand food and beverage exporters’ actions with other aspects of the country’s image, such as the “100% Pure” branding campaign designed to attract tourists.

The study also produced insights into the psychology behind negative brand perceptions. Consumers initially react to quality problems with spontaneous judgements or heuristics based on emotion and experience. Longer term, these emotional responses might be tempered by more deliberate and rational analysis of the situation. If the situation stabilises, the threat is neutralised and the guilty firm appears to take corrective action, then consumers might forgive a transgression and resume buying the affected brand. This implies that the severe dent to New Zealand’s clean-and-green image might also recover, but is likely to take a long time.

The latter point also resonates with public relations and marketing research into corporate reputation and crisis management. For example, a study into the recall of infected non-pasteurised cheese in Quebec highlighted the need for firms to develop crisis management procedures that emphasise prevention, preparedness and recovery. The latter requires immediate response to failures and disasters, compensation for affected consumers, and on-going communications to assure stakeholders that the guilty firms can be trusted to act responsibly in the future. In other words, as I wrote in an article with Sabrina Helm, reputation is based on anticipated future conduct.

The question in the current crisis is whether the New Zealand government, companies and industry groups can commit to long-term reductions in water pollution and other food safety hazards and ongoing communications to repair damaged corporate and country reputations.

Brendan Gray does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.


Aussie milk products cleared of botulism contamination

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, (DAFF) have said that no Australian domestic or export dairy product has been affected by botulism contaminates that were produced by New Zealand dairy giant, Fonterra.

The whey protein concentrate which is used in Fonterra’s Karicare baby formula and sports drink varieties was contaminated by an unsanitary pipe at Fonterra’s Hautapu plant in May 2012. The company has since recalled up to 1,000 tonnes of its dairy products.

Robert Poole, vice-chairman of the Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC) has said that all of the contaminated products that were imported into Australia have now been quarantined,  ABC Rural reports.

"All the product that came, it wasn't that much, has been found," said Poole,

"Some of it never made its way into the supply chain and if it did it's been recalled.

"That means DAFF has made a very strong statement, as have we as an industry, saying that we've found all this product in New Zealand and the appropriate action has been taken so it's all clear for Australia."