An entire shipment of palm kernel expeller (PKE) should have been recalled after the limb of an exotic animal was found in it, Federated Farmers grain and seed vice-chairman David Clark says.
The cloven limb, believed to be that of a deer or goat, was spotted on May 12 by a dairy farmer, who immediately contacted biosecurity officials.
Early indications were that the leg was likely to be of New Zealand origin, potentially buried in the PKE by a farm dog.
Clark said it had taken the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) until June 17 to confirm the limb was of exotic origin.
"There should have been an immediate recall of all of that shipment of PKE, but [MPI] chose to get it tested ... Now that is negligence," the Canterbury farmer said.
"Presumably the remainder of the skeleton is in the remainder of that PKE. So let's hope that we haven't got foot and mouth in New Zealand, because hope is about all we've bloody well got."
The contaminated PKE is believed to have been part of four shipments that were consolidated in a hold area at a New Zealand wharf believed to be in Tauranga.
The consolidation meant MPI was unable to trace which of the four shipments the animal limb came on.
Andrew Coleman, deputy director-general of compliance and response at MPI, said it was not negligence not to have attempted a recall of that PKE shipment
The consignments had arrived in the country in March and April "and by the time MPI was aware of the limb find [May 12], the PKE had been distributed and likely used on-farm," he said.
"The consignments are mixed at importer sites, making it difficult to isolate the particular consignment."
The ministry's risk assessment advice was that the risk of transmission of disease was "very low", he said.
There had been no further reports to MPI of biosecurity threats in shipments of PKE in the past seven to eight weeks, or from farmers or importers domestically, he said.
Clark estimated that each shipment may have had 15,000-20,000 tonnes of PKE on board; with the four lines consolidated, anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 tonnes of that PKE may now be across over 100 dairy farms in the country.
"There has been many stories over many years about contaminants in palm kernel but the old MAF never really, with any genuine intent, looked closely at the supply line and important processes for PKE," Clark told Straight Furrow.
Only since his trip with fellow Federated Farmer, Colin MacKinnon, to Malaysia in September last year does Clark believe the truth has begun to be uncovered about the palm kernel industry.
After that trip, among many suggestions that the Clark-McKinnon Report made to MPI in November, it was recommended that the screening of palm kernel should be conducted at pre-border clearance. Contaminants that were screened out should be held in a secure, biosecurity-standard manner, where they could be audited and tracked, the report said.
"The import health standard for palm kernel require that they're a clean, pure product. So if it is clean and pure, there surely should be no need for it to be screened? And if it has to be screened, then clearly it is being imported in breach of the import health standard," Clark said.
"I think it is gross negligence on behalf of MPI that two private individuals have had to travel to Malaysia and conduct their own investigation, report their findings and then have significant media coverage over eight months, to finally force the hand of MPI to go and conduct their own investigation.
"They [MPI] have now come home and confirmed the very same point that we'd raised in our report.
"The key finding of [our] report is that the heat treatment that MPI continue to refer to about palm kernel occurs too early in the supply line to have any relevance for biosecurity. And MPI's continual reliance on heat treatment shows a total misunderstanding of the supply lines of PKE," Clark said.
Hew Dalrymple, Federated Farmers' vice-chairperson (North Island) for Grain and Seed, is similarly vexed at the five weeks it took for the discovery to be confirmed and made public.
"MPI decided at that point in time [May 12] that because it was mixed up with other shipments, and all the palm kernel had been distributed to farmers, that a recall was a waste of time.
"That's not very smart in our view. They should have found out where the rest of it went.
"They sent the bone away for analysis ... In a nutshell, they chose to do nothing about it - and they knew there was an issue back on 12 May," Dalrymple said.
"The farmer found insects and maggot larvae on the bone, so that leads us to believe that there must have been some flesh with that animal.
"We've had reports in the past from farmers, and for fear of retaliation and other reasons, they've chosen not to go public but they've been happy to tell us that they have found animal skins and other foreign objects in their palm kernel.
"This has been ongoing ... the integrity of the import standards are not being stuck to," Dalrymple said.
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy was concerned that the animal part was found, and said it reinforced the need to tighten up the import requirements.
"A find like this one is extremely rare, given that approximately 1.5 million tonnes of PKE are imported annually."
The ministry was taking action to improve the import standards.
- Fairfax Media