New Zealand: Food watchdog pleads for help

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4:00AM Thursday Jun 11, 2009
By Rachel Tiffen

New Zealand's sole food safety watchdog says a lack of funding has left it reliant on the public - and law-abiding industry members - to report unsafe producers and businesses.

New Zealand Food Safety Authority spokesman Justin Rowlands yesterday told the Herald the organisation had just four "criminal investigators" to police food industry standards across New Zealand.

"I've got four guys, for crying out loud.

"I don't want to talk about funding, but the reality is that we don't have enough money to have people on the ground, proactively identifying these sorts of places,"

His comments come after Auckland woman Ling Zhang and her company Ling Ling Poultry were fined $23,000 for slaughtering tens of thousands of chickens in "stomach-churning conditions". Judge Eddie Paul - sitting in the Papakura District Court - imposed the fines on Zhang for selling animal products that had not been processed in line with the Animal Products Act, and not having a registered risk management programme.

"Anyone viewing that barn in the manner in which those chickens were slaughtered, their stomach would turn," he said.

A Food Safety Authority animal products officer found four people slaughtering poultry for the company in an Ardmore barn in October 2007.

The barn had no electricity, running water, refrigeration or sanitation. The premises had no registered risk management programme, under which primary processors of animal material must operate.

The company was ordered to stop operations and 100kg of dead birds were disposed of. Subsequent inquiries found Ling Ling Poultry had processed 57,000 birds and sold them to butchers and restaurants in the Auckland area.

Mr Rowlands, the authority's assistant director of compliance and investigation, said it was "so reliant on information from the public it's extraordinary".

He urged people to dob law-flouters in.

"If they [food outlets] serve up food and turn a blind eye to its origin and cause illness, I'm putting a very clear message out there that if we gather any evidence of that then we will prosecute."

Ten food outlets were identified as having bought poultry from Zhang, but Mr Rowlands would not reveal their names - though they appear to have been Asian eateries.

He said poultry was a prime source of campylobacter and risk management programmes reduced the chances of harmful bacteria being present.




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