Fears of tainted image for NZ milk

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2013

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A product used to reduce pollution in Kiwi waterways has been pulled off the market after traces of it were found in New Zealand milk.

While the Ministry for Primary Industries insists there are no food safety or health risks, the presence of dicyandiamide (DCD) alone could have major implications for local exporters.

DCD is the active ingredient in Eco-n and DCN - products used to reduce nitrogen leaching on dairy farms. It has been added to an international list of substances that must be tested by organisations such as the United States Food and Drug Administration.

MPI standards deputy director general Carol Barnao said while DCD has not been found to have an effect on food safety, the presence of residues in milk could be unacceptable to consumers and international markets, even in small amounts found in testing.

Food regulators around the world are tightening testing in line with more demanding markets and in some countries there is no tolerance to residues outside standards.

Milk markets remain sensitive after the incident several years ago when Chinese infants died and thousands were sick after drinking melamine-contaminated milk.

Eco-n's owner, Christchurch-based fertiliser co-operative Ravensdown, says DCD has been safely used around the world for 30 years, but it had taken the precaution of suspending its product for the rest of the year to retain New Zealand's dairy export reputation.

Chief executive Greg Campbell said research by the company and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) showed there were no food safety issues with DCD.

"What's changed is that last year organisations like the US Food and Drug Administration added DCD to a list of substances to test for. This, combined with increasingly sophisticated scanning technology, now presents a possible trade risk," he said.

"Given the risk to New Zealand's dairy export reputation, Ravensdown has taken the initiative and is suspending the single product which uses DCD for this calendar year."

He said there had never been a set of international standards around maximum residue levels in food products because DCD had been used safely for a long time.

"Because no standard exists for DCD, no detectable presence is acceptable. And because zero detection of DCD cannot be guaranteed, Ravensdown has taken the responsible, voluntary step to suspend its use while the trade issues are resolved," he said.

The action would cost the company $12 million to $14m in lost revenue.

Green MP Eugenie Sage said the suspended products were never the magic bullet to reducing nitrate leaching, and stronger measures were needed to reduce pollution in waterways.

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"Improved land use controls, including reducing stock numbers in sensitive catchments such as the Te Waihora, Lake Ellesmere and the Mackenzie Basin, more efficient water use and careful attention to fertiliser application and soil moisture levels are more important in improving nutrient management."

An assessment of DCD on farmland began in December when the MPI set up a working party of ministry officials, Fonterra and other dairy companies and the fertiliser companies Ravensdown and Ballance, which sells DCN.

WHAT IS DCD?

DCD, short for dicyandiamide, is a biodegradable compound slowing the rate that soil bacteria converts ammonia into nitrate and nitrous oxide.

The ingredient is widely used in industries such as electronics, pharmaceuticals and food packaging. DCD is the only product recognised nationally to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.

- The Press

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