Key reassures Chinese on dairy risk

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:00 21/03/2014

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A Massey University survey suggests it could take more than a visit by Prime Minister John Key to rebuild Chinese confidence in New Zealand dairy products.

Mr Key has been in China this week meeting politicians, businesses and media in an effort to reassure Chinese consumers following last year's Fonterra botulism scare.

The survey, conducted by Massey University in the northwest city of Lanzhou, shows New Zealand food products were regarded as carrying a greater food safety risk than foods from many other countries.

Some 28 per cent of the 531 participants rated New Zealand dairy products "not very safe". This is higher than products from Australia, 14.8 per cent, Canada, 14.8 per cent, United States, 13.2 per cent and the European Union, 12.5 per cent.

The survey was conducted in October last year, two months after Fonterra's botulism scare, which sparked a global recall of infant formula, but turned out to be a false alarm. Massey University professor of food safety and microbiology Steve Flint said this was likely to have influenced the results.

"If this is true, then this demonstrates the power of media publicity in influencing people's trust in food safety," Prof Flint said.

He said it will be important for Mr Key to generate positive media coverage within China.

"In New Zealand we pride ourselves on our reputation as a provider of safe food to the world. Our economy is based on this reputation.

"China is one of our biggest export markets and we have long been of the opinion that the Chinese trust New Zealand products. If this is not the case, then we have to reassess our international standing when it comes to how our customers view the safety of our food."

Federated Farmers said the findings were unsurprising.

"Let's be clear, this survey was taken only two months after massive publicity surrounding what media thought was a catastrophic failure in our food safety systems," Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said.

"Despite concussive bad news, 72 per cent of Chinese consumers polled regard New Zealand dairy products as ‘very safe'.

"You tell me a politician who'd be unhappy with that sort of approval rating."

"Front page coverage and appearances on television secured by Mr Key reinforce the vital message that New Zealand products are wholesome, trustworthy and above all, safe.

"If this survey is redone annually, I am certain we would see that proven," Mr Wills said.

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- Manawatu Standard

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