Fonterra must correct this failure

By Patrick O'Sullivan

I feared for my job after putting cups on a cow with mastitis.

I was tired from a long day during the 1992 calving season - separating out new mums, feeding calves, and wrestling with first-timers constantly kicking cups off their tiny teats.

I didn't connect the tubes to the test bucket and antibiotics entered the vat.

Dairy companies have big fines for farms making such a mistake. Repeat offenders have their contract cancelled.

The vat with antibiotics would have to be poured down the drain so I told my boss who made a surprising decision. He did nothing.

He commended me on being honest and said because the farm had a good record he wasn't monitored closely by Fonterra - there was a good chance our milk would not be randomly tested.

We got away with it.

But botulism can kill and it is surprising Fonterra's regime has allowed it into our food chain.

No system is perfect but after the melamine scandal there is no excuse. Fonterra's reputation dodged a bullet after 300,000 Chinese babies' kidneys were affected by poisoned milk from a company it was a 43 per cent shareholder in. Six babies died.

It would be interesting to know what the human population would be without baby dairy formula. Breast feeding can be very, very difficult to establish for some.

I have a 6-week-old baby that was tube-fed formula when sick with jaundice. The baby was cured in an incubator using blue light and hasn't had a drop of formula since.

Yet my reaction to the botulism scandal is not an emotional one about endangering babies, it is more incredulity that Fonterra does not have a system in place to prevent people being poisoned.

How many billions of dollars the scandal will cost this tiny nation is impossible to measure. Dairy has been our mainsail and if not dealt with smartly the scandal will derail our predicted economic recovery.

I'm sure that is what Prime Minister John Key was thinking when he questioned Fonterra's delay in announcing the botulism botch up.

But without researching the extent of the problem before making an announcement, hysteria would have been widespread.

Eventually Fonterra will recover from the scandal because they have owned up with the hard truth - they didn't do their job properly.

In the long run its reputation can only be enhanced by how well they "do the right thing" - one of its core corporate values.


- Hawkes Bay Today

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