Food recalls should inspire confidence

JAMES HOUGHTON
Last updated 16:05 21/01/2014

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In light of another recall from Fonterra it is understandable that people are losing their confidence in the brand. However, there are of a variety of perspectives on food safety that needs to be addressed.

In the past 20 years we have seen consumers taking an unprecedented interest in the way food is produced, and an increasing demand for transparency. With the growing amount of information available to consumers there comes a risk of how that information is being construed.

The food safety and testing standards we see today would have been unfathomable 20 years ago. We are in a whole different ball game, where products can be traced right back to the shop shelf, and we are able to test for parts per billion of contaminants - rather than the thousands.

It wasn't that long ago when we used to think that was pretty amazing. However, there is a trade-off that comes with this technical development - where with cautionary recalls people are becoming afraid of their food.

The reputational damage caused from these recalls, comes from the sensationalised reaction in the media.

The Danone court case against Fonterra is a fine example of the fallout of our technical advancement, increased standards, and transparency. With so much technical information out there, it is easy to get overwhelmed and confused by the risks you face when you put something in your mouth.

Nothing edible in this world is 100 per cent safe, but that doesn't mean it is going to harm you. That is why people are encouraged to eat a good balanced diet, to avoid health risks from the exposure to the extensive amount of bugs we consume - a dilution to negate the harmful affects.

If we wanted to grow food that was 100 per cent safe we would have to farm in a laboratory. We have been consuming fresh produce for hundreds of years not knowing what contaminants lay beneath its skin and now we have more than scratched the surface consumers are running to the organic store.

The E coli outbreak in Germany where organic sprouts killed 50 people and hospitalised thousands in 2011 is an example of that. He explains that the use of animal manure, as the major source of fertilizer for organic food, is afflicting and killing people with its nasty bacteria as well as the lack of antimicrobial preservatives, chemical washes, pasteurisation, or even chlorinated water to rid products of dangerous bacteria.

We can learn a lot from the positive sides of organics, but there are associated risks with it. Where is the sophisticated testing here? Compare Fonterra's ability to voluntarily recall its product as a precaution to the vast unknown of the organic world and I would take their carton of milk, over any other, anytime.

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So the system works, and consumers are getting better protection, but rather than feeling reassured, consumers are growing ever more concerned with their wellbeing.

I would like to challenge those consumers to identify what quantifies pure to them when they looking at past consumer behaviour - before we were faced with the overwhelming responsibility of knowing so much about what we consume.

I would rather participate in business that does test its produce and has the ability to identify and recall it rather than to leave it totally up to Mother Nature.

- James Houghton is Federated Farmers Waikato provincial president

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