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Interview: Major new markets put New Zealand food safety communication in focus

(Xinhua)    12:54, May 28, 2015

WELLINGTON, May 28 -- New Zealand must recognize the importance of emerging markets like China by setting up a prime minister-led crisis management group to coordinate responses to food safety issues, a leading communications expert said Thursday.

The country and the agricultural food sector needed a high- level response group, comprising industry and government key players as well as senior communications professionals, to act quickly to reassure export markets, Massey University communications expert Dr Chris Galloway told Xinhua.

Within the last three years, New Zealand's pillar dairy industry and the government have been criticized for poor responses to a series of food safety issues.

At the beginning of 2013, residues of pasture treatment chemical DCD were found in some Fonterra milk products, and in August that year came the false botulism alarm and the global recall of whey protein concentrate.

And police are still hunting the person or persons who threatened to poison New Zealand infant formula with the poison 1080 -- a threat made in November last year, but only revealed in March this year.

A crisis management group had to consider the broader issues for New Zealand's reputation abroad and the need to protect the wider economy, Galloway said in a phone interview.

"Our reputation allows us to charge a premium in overseas markets, such as China," said Galloway.

"Ultimately I think the prime minister is the guardian of New Zealand's reputation. Ultimately we see the prime minister as the one who should take whatever initiatives are required to protect New Zealand's reputation wherever and whenever it may be under threat."

Galloway, who publicly questioned the government in March for withholding information about the 1080 threat, said the 24-hour news cycle and the significant role of social media in markets like China meant a crisis group should prepare to respond to a range of contingencies.

The botulism scare, which triggered a global recall of affected products, had highlighted the failures of a lack of coordination.

"People are very quick to pick up on strategies that don't look consistent, that are not consistent. In the past at times, the coordination that one would wish to see hasn't always been there," said Galloway.

"As we saw in 2013 with concerns around purported botulism contamination, reputational issues had very direct links to market access issues. This has become something that has a direct effect on our economy and can do so very quickly."

Massey University research had shown that consumers in China -- New Zealand's biggest dairy export market -- regarded favourably the actions of the New Zealand government and Fonterra after the botulism scare for what they perceived as a fairly transparent approach.

"While we would hope that people in any such hypothetical scenario in the future would be prepared to give New Zealand the benefit of the doubt on the basis of our generally extremely high- quality track record, it's also a good idea not to take that for granted and act properly to correct any misapprehensions that people might have and to put in place appropriate strategies," said Galloway.

"It's a recognition of just how important markets like China are to us. These markets are so important that we need to take communication very seriously indeed."

Galloway will be one of three speakers -- along with Ministry for Primary Industries, which is responsible for food safety, director-general Martyn Dunne and Fonterra global brands director Jo Finer -- at a seminar on safe food at the university next month.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Zhang Yuan,Bianji)

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