Milk contamination set to be an ongoing story

RACHEL STEWART
Last updated 07:53 04/02/2013

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OPINION: The news that traces of the chemical dicyandiamide (DCD) have been found in New Zealand milk, shouldn't really come as any great surprise.

Nor should the Government and Fonterra expect it to just die a nice, quiet death. I predict the story will grow "legs" and strut way beyond last week's revelations.

While I am not yet convinced it is, in fact, a massive food safety issue, our international trading partners may feel less persuaded. The mere fact that melamine is found in DCD is enough to give the Chinese palpitations.

I am convinced though that there is much more to this story than we've so far heard. With Primary Industries Minister David Carter knowing there was an issue with DCD last September, the saga has developed a distinct whiff of subterfuge.

September to January is a long time to get your story straight. Has it taken that long to come up with a believable sales pitch to the public? Or was it kept quiet because of Fonterra's big unit float at the end of November?

If you've been recently living in a hobbit hole, let me avail you of what DCD is designed for. Along with intensive dairy farming comes masses of greenhouse gas emissions and also nitrate leaching that ends up in our waterways. DCD has the ability to partially suppress some of those negative impacts.

It's also used to promote pasture growth. On that score it is apparently pretty good. The question of whether it's used primarily for that purpose, rather than for any real reduction of adverse environmental impacts, needs to be asked.

Farmers have got to turn a buck you know, and its use is not mandatory, so I think I may have answered my own question.

Ravensdown and Ballance have been selling the product and we've been led to believe that they pulled it from the shelves when the story broke.

That may be true for Ravensdown, but Ballance's recent press release states that it ceased sales in early spring, 2012, and it had not promoted DCD's use since late 2010. The only clue why is because the company wanted to "review the product and its application".

What did Ballance know that Ravensdown, Fonterra and the Government claim they didn't?

A statement about the product removal on the Ministry for Primary Industries website says, "we appreciate there may be some impact on the small number of dairy farmers that use DCD . . .", which is all well and good. However, it's decidedly insincere to talk only in terms of numbers of dairy farmers.

DCD is generally used by hi- tech, large industrial-sized farms with extremely high cow numbers. If the Government's claim that it's used by only "a small number" of dairy farmers is true, we could still be talking about millions of cows.

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That's more the issue for consumers I'd have thought.

Ever the opportunists, Fonterra's Shareholders Council wasted no time in outlining to regional councils that they lower nitrate pollution targets. Fish & Game, always first cab off the rank where freshwater is concerned, wasted no time in putting the Shareholders Council on notice.

Chief executive Bryce Johnson said: "It is utter arrogance for a sector which is already reaping significant environmental subsidies to use this as an excuse for affected farmers to maintain their artificially elevated stocking rates and further pollute the public's freshwater resources."

Of course, there's the nub. The dairy industry feels it is an extra special case.

They lose their ability, possibly only temporarily, to artificially constrain nitrate leaching, but do not accept there are any other ways to reduce their environmental impact.

How's this for radical? Reduce your cow numbers. It's so blindingly simple that surely it can't be taken seriously, right? Or acted upon. Or be anything except laughed at. I mean, we're talking about money here.

How dare I, or anyone else, suggest a solution to the problem. How negative of me.

How naive.

At some point, like it or not, lower stocking rates will be forced on dairy farmers. It's fast approaching and it won't be Government or Fonterra-led. The soil, the waterways and the public will literally take no more.

In the interim, more trade pressures will appear due to increased scrutiny of our milk - and rightly so. Treating consumers like idiots, as the Government and Fonterra have done, will not advance the industry's cause.

A sidebar. Fracking waste is commonly disposed of in Taranaki via a lovely process called "landfarming". The toxic cocktail of chemicals, referred to as drilling muds, is spread on pasture to "dilute" within the soil.

Dairy cows are often put back on the very same pasture - in some cases after a nominal period of time.

Fracking waste contains many hundreds of joyous chemicals - barium, arsenic, benzene, lead, mercury - to name but a few.

We can only hope that Fonterra's testing regime team is just as busy and alert as its public relations team is right now.

- Taranaki Daily News

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