Super Fund guardians 'comfortable' with investment link

ANDREA FOX
Last updated 05:00 17/02/2011

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Guardians of New Zealand's multibillion-dollar Superannuation Fund say they are "comfortable" about the appointment of a rural investment manager with close links to a professional dairying manager facing animal welfare charges.

Ross Cottier, a director of sharemilking management company MilkPride, is among five parties the Agriculture Ministry is taking to court over treatment of cows following an investigation at a Crafar farm in 2009.

Shortly after the court action was started, Companies Office records show that on January 17 Mr Cottier resigned as director of FarmRight, a South Island-based dairy farming management and consultancy company which was appointed as a Superannuation Fund investment manager this month.

Mr Cottier remains a significant shareholder of FarmRight.

FarmRight chief executive Jim Lee said Mr Cottier's resignation was a "personal choice" and not something required by the Guardians as the contract had been awarded "some weeks" before the MAF prosecution.

"FarmRight and MilkPride are completely unrelated. We have nothing to do with them. We managed some farms for them three years ago ... but we have no management involving them, and have not for three years," Mr Lee said.

A spokesman for the Guardians of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund said FarmRight had "kept us informed" in recent weeks.

Due diligence on FarmRight had included visits to properties with which it was involved.

Mr Lee expressed concern at people drawing the two companies together when Mr Cottier was the only link.

"We are happy to put our practices up for scrutiny. We want to be very open. This is not about us and has no influence over what happened or hasn't happened up there [on the Crafar farm involved]."

MAF has refused to name the five parties it is prosecuting "for being owners/in charge of animals and not meeting their welfare needs".

But Mr Cottier has confirmed he is a defendant in the case, to be heard in the Taupo District Court next month, along with fellow MilkPride director Murray Flett, a former director of dairy giant Fonterra, PGG Wrightson, NZ Farming Systems Uruguay and a Southland dairy farmer. MilkPride claims to be New Zealand's biggest sharemilking company.

MilkPride said yesterday that its directors and staff "have always taken animal welfare extremely seriously. It is an essential and integral component of all good farming practice across New Zealand but until the complex facts surrounding the allegations have been fully assessed, Milkpride will not be making any further comment".

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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