New Zealand Food Safety Lecture Series 2019
Food industry and food safety leaders gave presentations at the 2019 New Zealand Food Safety Lecture Series. The lectures in Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington covered a range of food safety issues, and audience members had the chance to ask questions.
About the series
The New Zealand Food Safety Lecture Series 2019 featured 2 lectures in Auckland, a lecture in Christchurch, and 1 in Wellington. At each lecture, experts spoke on food safety issues and audience members had the chance to ask questions.
Videos, transcripts, and presentations are available now for the first 2 lectures. Lectures 3 and 4 will be available soon.
Lecture series videos, transcripts, and presentations
Lecture 1: Responding to increasing challenges in New Zealand's food safety system
Video – Responding to increasing challenges in New Zealand's food safety system (1:21.45)
Robyn Kruk, AO, Chair of Food Standards Australia New Zealand: If no one minds, I might just roam a bit rather than standing behind a podium. Firstly, Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
It is an absolute pleasure to be here. My aim is to try and make the food system interesting. I don't need to convince you that it's incredibly important, and it’s one of the issues that really does bind Australia and New Zealand together, hence Food Standards Australia New Zealand. It's a marriage of 20 years and probably one of the longest bi-national examples of Australia and New Zealand working together successfully that we can point to. So what I'll cover through quite quickly is just a bit of our background.
I have to touch on the food regulation system, because I know you are masters in most respects. But it is a complex system, so it's worth just having a look at where it's up to at the moment and also to actually look at some of the things that are affecting the system. And I'm sure you've got a number you'd like to add as well.
I want to look at what are the things that are driving us, we call it modernization. And we also want to run you through some of the options that we are putting forward to our various ministers in addressing those changes. But we very much welcome the chance to talk to you, because this is another part of our discussions about getting it right, improving it, and in essence ensuring that both Australia and New Zealand continues to enjoy a food safety system, which I think is an exemplary one and one that we need to both maintain and also to grow.
So the future state. A bit of a background – it's an Australian statutory agency set up by legislation, and we set standards for both Australia and New Zealand. The main function is to administer the code. Everyone refers to it as “the code.”
I know some of your colleagues from the beverage industry said to me in Wellington a few weeks ago, you need about three degrees to understand what actually the code means and don't even think about going into the annexes. So there are seriously some challenges, but it is one of the most fundamental pieces of machinery and architecture that sit behind our food safety system. It's a legislatively based instrument, and it relies very much on the laws of the state or territory and also the New Zealand laws.
I really do want to acknowledge Bryan and his team's leadership in this area, so we're very pleased to take up the offer to talk to you today.
We are not responsible for enforcement. I think that's often where the confusion is. People look at FSANZ and thinks we are basically the food safety standards setter and also the regulator, but in essence those responsibilities lie with the states and territories and also with your government.
We, as Glen's title suggests, we are into the business of risk assessment, risk managers, and also risk communicators.
The food regulation system, I have seen this go from a very complex mud map with bits and pieces that make it look even worse. There is never a discussion on the food regulatory system where people don't use the word “complex” more times than you'd want to imagine.
So a credit to Glen and his team to take it down to, in essence, as simply as we can. FSANZ, we're about standards. The standards are quite fundamental. They're based on a very coherent and well-accepted and highly evidence-based system and have served the countries well for some time. We are also responsible for a number of activities, which are common to the work of the Food Safety Authority in New Zealand – the coordination of recalls.
Sadly, that's been a business that we're seeing a bit of an uplift in the last year. I think that my memory was there something like 28 more recalls last year than in previous years, and there's no doubt that each one of those recalls attracts some media attention and potentially is of concern to food safety more generally. We are also a policy advisor. I think we are one of the largest amalgams of expertise in the food science area in the Australia-Pacific region, but hopefully we are only degrees of separation away from some of the best science minds internationally, nationally, and also hold a number of those within the agency.
The policy space and I'm sure a number of the questions that you'll want to ask us today actually touch on the policy space as well. What are you going to do about food fraud? What's happening in relation to Impossible Foods? A whole range of those issues actually sit at the policy space, what both of our governments or actually what direction they'll take where they actually draw some lines in the sand.
The forum on food regulation is made up of ministers either agricultural, health, or both, from all the states and territories and also the federal minister and your minister as well too. So I truly as board chair, and as a member of the board, serve many masters. So the challenge in that regard is, obviously, to get a consensus and to get agreement across various systems.
The final part is the enforcement part. As I indicated, that lies with the states and territories. In your instance, with MPI and also in Australia with the Department of Agriculture in relation to imported food. So a very quick snapshot. Some of the people who play in that patch have touched on the ministers, touched on our roles. There's this tricky little spot between food and therapeutic goods.
If I look at it the moment we've been asked to provide advice on concentrated caffeine after the very tragic death of a young man who consumed I think a teaspoon of very concentrated caffeine in the evening and died almost immediately. So you would consider caffeine as something that can sit either in the food or in the therapeutic good space. So we obviously have an area where we cooperate and work closely with those administrations, in your instance, Medsafe.
Board of protection, agriculture and water resources, in our instance, in Australia, and also MPI, when we work in New Zealand. Gene tech, you’re not surprised, GMOs and those issues, and the interface with the EPA is equally important, and also the veterinary medicine interface.
Increasingly, our discussions also touch on issues such as antibiotic-resistant matters. And I'm sure a number of you, looking at your backgrounds, may have an interest in that area. A few more – the whole issue about food fraud, food deception. I remember very clearly issues in relation to the honey industry. Those matters are dealt with by the consumer protection agencies, the ACCC in Australia, and your consumer protection bodies here.
The regulators, I've touched on those. The areas of industrial chemicals, and the EPA. An area that FSANZ has spent considerable time on in the last 12 months has been PFAS and PFOS, and looking at the impact of those on the food chain – I think an issue which has also been prevalent in some of your areas here, as well.
Consumers – increasingly important, awareness, you will see, in all of our discussions and all of our papers, the importance of actually getting input from that particular section of the community, but also, at the same time, the importance of both production and also the manufacturing industry. So we have some major players in that space.
So that's just a very quick roadmap of the regulatory system. I'm sorry I can't make that any more interesting, but it gives you a backdrop anyway.
What do we actually look at? Again, this is a bit of background in the risk assessment. Clearly, the areas of dietary modelling and nutrition. FSANZ is about to undertake a major health survey in Australia for our Bureau of Statistics, providing us very solid data on a national basis, in terms of the nutritional sciences.
Toxicology, the obvious issues of microbiology, as well, and we also had a number of expert advisory groups. In essence, in many areas, we have to rely on the expertise of some of the leaders internationally, and quite deliberately make partnerships with colleagues in the EU, in America, in Canada, in relation to… to ensure that the body has access to the most recent scientific behaviour.
So those are the factors that Glen takes into account in his role. The issue is – and this is one of the matters that are the most pivotal for us in our operation – is the transparency of those processes. Our brand is to be independent. Our brand is to be transparent. Our brand is also to provide opportunities for engagement across all of the stakeholder communities.
The risk assessment… sorry, the risk management space – who plays in that area, and what do we actually take into account? And this is an area where policy plays a more significant role. Clearly, the system is focused on food safety, but certainly, the act also requires us to look at the trade implications. And obviously, there are whole issues that are relevant to members in the audience today.
So government and international agreements – FSANZ is an active player in APEC, in discussions involving the Chinese, their co-chair, one of those groups looking at food security, looking at food safety, and looking at far greater consistency, both nationally and internationally in relation to some of the food standards matters, for the obvious trade reasons.
Stakeholders – the consumer industry, and health professionals. This is an area where probably some of the most significant changes are occurring at a community level. Concerns about GMOs, concerns about sustainability, concerns about the ethical sourcing of food – there is no doubt the one constant factor that we see in all of these areas is that the amount of money spent on food is increasing.
The economic contribution of food is in increasing, both nationally and internationally. But the demands in relation to stakeholders at the consumer level are becoming increasingly complex, and probably have a greater impact on this system going forward. Ministerial policy guidelines – and I'll touch on those in the next slide, and our discussion on some of the foodborne illness areas is an example.
Trade and international standards – have touched on those, quite significant. What is, I think, important about our relationship through FSANZ is, in some instances, we may be competitors, but both of us benefit very strongly from having food safety systems that are trusted and actually have a monetary value – a reliable, safe food system. So a lot of the cooperation that occurs between Australia and New Zealand through food standards is actually based at increasing the competitiveness of both countries, in that regard.
Cost benefit analysis – our obligations under the act require us to look at cost benefits in the development of applications, looking at them quite broadly – whether it be a labelling issue, whether it be looking at the broader impacts of taking something to market, some of the manufacturing implications, timing, and all those issues.
Labelling – the demand increasingly is for greater transparency, more information about source of food. There are increasing demands on us, in relation to some of the ethical sources of food products, as well too – and obviously, also legislation.
The final one I want to touch on is risk communication. We are increasingly, in our work, looking to social and behavioural research. An area like ours, where there is a strong focus on regulation, looks very much at getting a better understanding of what actually influences behaviour, what is necessary to actually change behaviour, and what also actually leads to far more informed consumer groups. So this is an area that's an increasing priority in our work profile.
Looking at some of the factors that are impacting on the system at the moment – the increased globalization of food production and supply. You look at it on the market. You look at the rate at which that change is occurring, looking at quite different forms of commerce, the proliferation of e-commerce. Most of our labelling, current labelling is still very much geared at point of sale. You look at the whole change in relation to the food supply system.
You look at the whole development of new industries in that space – the rate and pace of technological change in industry innovation, the desire for often quite existing big players to become front runners. Looking, as I touched on it earlier, in relation to plant meat substitutes or complements, the rate at which the market is changing quickly on that internationally, and the desire to be leaders in those areas.
Consumer expectation about information – a stronger societal focus on diet, health, and well-being, all matters that would be unique, not unique to Australia or apparently internationally, as well too. One which is really significant, in terms of us going forward, is the desire to have regulatory structures actually proportionate to risk, to ensure that we've got the resources to spend on areas where there is the biggest risk to safety and to ensure that we can actually respond more quickly, and also consider the opportunities for innovation.
The fiscal constraints on government agencies – not unique to New Zealand. Bryan will take some comfort in that. And certainly, we've looked at our budget being consistently challenged, as the demand goes up.
Drivers affecting the system – what was significant in the last two years is the ministers having got together and, quite deliberately and strategically, looked at those issues that are common to the states and territories nationally in Australia, and also to New Zealand.
Not surprisingly, foodborne illness was one of the ones that was number one, in relation to commonality. I know, in Australia, and I'm sure that we'll hear about it in more detail in Steve's presentation, over 4 million preventable instances of foodborne illnesses occur in Australia roughly a year. And the major issue is that they're preventable. It's an issue that has a massive potential to influence public confidence, and that's very difficult to retain, and also to regain.
Secondly, and this was a very significant one, and one with some major impacts in going forward, is to support the public health objectives to reduce chronic disease related to overweight and obesity.
Now, this is an area where I'm afraid our statistics are somewhat worse than yours. 63% of Australians are either obese or overweight. You are lucky, in effect, that it's only one in three, but when you look at the statistics in relation to obesity and overweightness on children, where in Australia it's one in four, it's an issue of major public concern. So not surprisingly, ministers agreed that was an area that should be a priority across both countries and across the system, and certainly an area which is now a major consideration for FSANZ.
Finally, maintaining a strong, robust, and agile food regulatory system. We have undertaken two quite big discussions in New Zealand with stakeholders. I know some faces around the room.
And quite honestly, what's working? Where are you having difficulties? What do you not want to lose? What is really quite critical, in terms of maintaining, but where are the areas do you really think that we need to and can actually do better? New Zealand is leading this particular area with the Victorian government, so a matter that's close to Brian's heart and also across at the ministerial level, as well. So these are the three priorities that are given to us on a system-wide basis.
I think I don’t need to cover that. Probably the very clear message is our marriage agreement's 20 years old. The legislation is old. The legislation actually tells us step by step what we have to do, rather than actually getting us to look at outcomes. In some instances, it makes this very difficult for us not to go through the same steps time and time again, as it is in the case of processing aids.
So we've had a lot of feedback. Yes, it's time to actually have a look at are there different ways of doing it. Can we actually do it better? Can we do it more efficiently?
But very clear message, and this came from the Wellington meeting a few months ago, as well – but let's make sure that we don't disturb what is a very effective relationship. Let's not actually undermine in any way, but only to support the integrity of the system, the independence, the transparency, the opportunities for engagement, just to name a few.
So some very, very clear messages about let's not put those issues at any risk. But clear message to us is – really have to ensure that the system that we work under is actually fit for purpose. It's got a bit old, the legislation probably needs a refresh, but also some very clear messages about where we need to and can be more collaborative, more strategic, and also more responsive.
Other issues that came through our discussions with colleagues like yourself, but also in the Australian states, is that it's currently unclear. I've used a complex word before about the system. People don't necessarily know who's who. When something goes wrong, all they know is that there's a massive response campaign that's actually organized. But at the moment, it's actually very difficult to get the face of food safety.
FSANZ is often the one because of its strong science background and its independence that does actually speak in those situations. But there is a lack of clarity, in relation to the leadership across that sector. So one of the questions is, are there ways that can be done better?
Secondly is just the access to the policy arena. People are unclear how, in effect, greater attention is going to be paid to some of the public health issues, which are generally acknowledged to be incredibly important. People are not exactly sure how to actually get change in those particular areas.
The questions here of consistency, of advice across jurisdictions, none of these would be a surprise to you. The issue that we are understandably incredibly focused on is the perception that it takes us too long to undertake a number of these proposals and applications. And this is an area, hence our focus on modernization, really looking at what we can do in our own backyards before actually looking at further… the potential for legislative changes.
New technologies – I've touched on those, rather than going into more details – and a very clear message that, in most areas, regulatory systems like ours are refreshed every few years to ensure that they can keep up with the rate of change, rate of expectations, the arguments for actually looking at some legislative change.
We call it modernization one and modernization two. I won't linger on it. The first one is very much in-house, talking with people like yourselves and colleagues in Australia, in relation to how we can actually streamline some of our processes, working within the confines of the legislation. In effect, making us easier to deal with, making your experience with us clearer – other areas where we can be more transparent.
I want to pay credit to Glen and his team, who is undertaking, at the moment, some quite challenging consultations. And he's got some other ones ahead, at the moment. He's looking at, what is it, labelling, pregnancy labelling on alcohol. We have recently been given the issue of added sugars.
In all of these areas, what's important for us is the opportunity to actually engage and get input from you in those processes. Modernization two actually takes it to the next level, looking at what we need to do to maintain the confidence in the food system. What is it that actually causes concern?
We saw, with the recent strawberry tampering incident – recent, it's 12 months ago, it's very fresh in our mind – how one act of malice can have such a profound impact across a whole system, and virtually brought the strawberry industry on its knees. The time it's taken for that to recover – I understand that the New Zealand system also had some consequences of that, so we are interlinked on those cases.
So to get a good sense of what success looks like, but also to be far more proactive in our intelligence functions to look at on the horizon – I mean look at what's troubling in other areas, where issues such as human milk are coming on the market. I've touched on plant-based protein, a whole range of issues which once… they need to be identified quite early in the cycle to enable us to respond more effectively.
Also looking at culture. We are incredibly blessed to have some of the most talented scientists. We also need to have access to a range of other partnerships, collaborations to actually ensure that our science is actually fit for purpose, and that we're an organization that people want to work in. We are blessed, can I say, in that regard, but we do understand that that our staff are our most significant asset, in that regard.
Modernization three, they're the discussions that we're currently having at ministerial level and in consultations, such as with you and your colleagues, about what a more significant shift potentially to the legislation could involve.
Metrics – I've touched on some of those, some of the key ones. None of those would be a surprise to you, rate of time, throughput, looking at some of the more qualitative aspects of consumer confidence as well, too.
Intelligence – again, I'm glad that Glen is here with us today, in terms of he may want to touch on some of those issues in the Q&A system – it is really trying to use the knowledge and insight of all of our partners across the system to use that to inform our key work, whether it be in the nutritional area and labelling, looking at food safety risk to get ahead of the game, to also ensure that the policy agenda is actually equally equipped and works in a timely manner to deal with some of those issues.
If I look at the issue of cannabis edibles, I'm conscious we're working with colleagues in the US, some of the challenges that are being faced in relation to the legalization of marijuana – so to look at where that stands, in relation to the Australian and New Zealand policy agendas, as well.
New breeding techniques – I've just picked out a few, just by way of example.
Finally, what our end game is – I've touched on it, and it's really quite significant, to ensure we have our risk assessment focused on the areas of greatest risk to public harm. So to ensure that there's a proportionality, that our focus is maintained on consumer protection and industry innovation. But clearly, with a focus on food safety being at the heart of that.
To have a more networked and responsive system. We saw, in relation to the strawberry tampering incident, where some of the interfaces between the police systems and the health and agricultural systems weren't as good as they could have been. Contacts with industries – we, on a normal a regular basis, always undertake significant debriefs, and actually look at some of the changes that have come out of the learnings of those instances.
So more networked and responsive systems – mechanism for consistency. Most industry colleagues raised the challenges for us. They still have quite different provisions in play in different states. It's an issue that's also come up with industry colleagues in New Zealand, as well too.
The ability to meet the new challenges – I've touched on one, NBTs, but there are a range of others. More transparency in the policy process – happy to touch on that later on. One of the most fundamental ones is to maintain that high level of trust in New Zealand and Australian food, and also in FSANZ as the standard setter in that game, and I think the system more broadly. Their intelligence gathering and international cooperation.
In closing, I just want to say we are, I think, incredibly blessed that we live in two countries where the food is safe, where there is a higher level of public confidence. But I think a number of us, whether it's in the horticultural area, you’ve seen some of the instances locally, in relation to foodborne illnesses, how quickly that can actually be lost.
And I think what underpins the effectiveness of our relationship is the mutual benefits, but it is a very strong focus at wanting to maintain and also to grow a system which is innovative and safe. Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to you today.
[End of transcript]
Steve Hathaway, Chief Scientist, New Zealand Food Safety: Thanks very much, Bryan, and welcome this morning, everybody. You've had a really broad canvas drawn by Robyn about our regulatory system and how it works. And so now, we're going to narrow our gaze and look at a single issue – campylobacteriosis. And this is a disease that really has a very strong New Zealand dimension for regulators, as well as industry, and academia, and consumer interest groups in this country.
As you'll see, it unfolded more than 20 years ago, and a lot of players have come together to manage what is quite an intractable disease in this country. And as we go through, you'll see how some of the things Robyn talks about – how combining the evidence-based risk assessment with good management decisions and good communication – is critical to challenging what is, in fact, or has been, an epidemic of an infectious disease in New Zealand.
So the prologue to this story is that it is a relatively recent concern of regulatory agencies. And the first inkling that we had a major problem came through a Ministry of Health-sponsored case control study way back in 1997. And they looked at risk factors associated with increasing numbers of notified human illnesses.
And while that study pointed to poultry as being a major pathway, it didn't really tell us what the source specifically was. Was it contact with wild birds, or poultry, or food, for instance? It also showed that there were other pathways involved that needed to be examined. So it was only an early look at where this disease might be coming from.
However, the public health outcry following the MAGIC study, and as cases mounted, really increased through the early 2000s. And what was the New Zealand Food Safety Agency, at that time, responded in earnest around about 2006.
And this graph tells you just what this epidemic looked like. And it can be genuinely described as an epidemic. WHO describes an epidemic as an unusual frequency of disease over a period of time, but you can see, as this unfolded over the first few years of the 2000s, New Zealand was way ahead of other countries, in terms of notified cases.
And we were getting up to around about 400 per 100,000 people around about 2003, 2006. That's a lot of diarrhoea. In fact, I think sometimes you see this statistic, “Olympic swimming pool,” creeping into our measurement frame. I think I might work that out one day.
Not only diarrhoea, of course, but also invasive campylobacteriosis, which can be much more serious, and Guillain-Barré disease, which is a nervous disease with very serious consequences, in a very small number of cases.
So we learned from the MAGIC Study, and some of the early work done in the early 2000s, that there were a lot of possibilities and pathways for this disease.
We knew that there were reservoirs in a range of animals and birds, ruminants, companion animals, as well as, obviously, the… also in pigs. And whatever you can imagine, you could isolate campylobacter from, including wild reservoirs. We also knew that it was a common contaminant of both red meat and poultry meat coming through primary processing.
It could also be readily isolated from waterways, rural drinking water, and also companion animals. So in amongst this mix, where was the risk coming from for humans? And there were a number of pathways for that possibility. And even though we knew some risk factors by association, we couldn't actually quantify the risk.
During and over this period, as we were becoming what was coined in the newspaper as the "campy capital of the world" – up to 400 cases per 100,000. And that 400 equates, at that time, with about 4 million people, to 16,000 notifiable cases. When you think of underreporting, you're really talking about maybe 50,000 cases across the country per year – as I said, a lot of swimming pools.
And the one thing that was noticeable through this time was the increased consumption of fresh poultry. And we were totally changing our dietary habits over this period. And there was a very strong association, as you can see, between this epidemic and the consumption of fresh poultry.
So as the regulator at the time, we were faced with a number of questions. Where was this coming from? There were indications that poultry was a major pathway, but we didn't have specific risk-based evidence. So when we started to approach this problem in earnest, from a scientific point of view, we commissioned what was an emerging science called source attribution.
And this is where we do specific studies and monitoring down to the molecular level of different sources, look at pathways, and try and find out proportionately where those human cases are coming from. And once we know that relative proportion of cases, then as a regulator and as an industry, you can start focusing on what are the best risk management measures for the money spent.
And at the same time, we began in earnest to investigate the outbreaks that were occurring and they weren't restricted to food. There were raw milk outbreaks, and also a number of outbreaks associated with drinking water and other odd pathways. Taking this approach, investing in the science, investing in source attribution with our academic partners at Massey University, we were able to start putting the evidence together for a systematic response.
So the early attribution studies, before we were able to respond as a regulator, are shown here. And this is some very good work done at Massey University, at the time. As a regulatory agency, we sponsored the PhD student to do this work initially – Patricia Mueller.
And this is what came out of the first three years of her study – a very strong association of human cases, in the yellow there, with poultry consumption, a lesser association with bovine and ovine cases, and then lessening to a very low association with what we know are other possible sources.
And this work was carried out with a combination of molecular genetics, and also epidemiological work. So this gave us a very good steer as to where we should focus with our industry partners on trying to address this problem.
So 2007, we implemented a very comprehensive and systematic risk management strategy, and this included a range of activities, you can see them listed there. We invested in a lot of science at different places throughout the food chain to see what sort of control measures we could put in place. One of the major things, and I'll talk about it a bit more, was instituting a national microbiological database, which was a first worldwide.
We also upgraded our biosecurity manual, which is a guidance manual with the help of industry to see what could be done at farm level for control of campylobacter in poultry. And also upgrading all our processing codes which specified the hygiene requirements by regulation that industry needed to meet.
We also invested in risk modelling, and I'll talk about that a bit later. We set a regulatory performance target – another world-first, in terms of a comprehensive risk management strategy. And we also invested quite heavily, at the time, in consumer education, because we knew that the way consumers handled food in their home was a risk factor from the old MAGIC Study. We also set in place a 5-year improvement goal to drive us forward, in terms of measurable gains.
That was a very active strategy through 2010. At that time, MPI was formed, and NZFSA was subsumed into a broader agency. And we carried forward several of those elements through the MPI years, and some of the strategies, you can see they're listed as well, updating some of the regulatory requirements, and working with the regulatory target and the NMD to make it more efficient and effective.
So the National Micro Database – as stated up there, this was a world-leading monitoring system that both industry and government jointly invested in in all poultry slaughterhouses.
We knew that was a major pathway. By this time, we'd established that there was a major contamination problem at the end of primary processing, so we needed to monitor that performance relative to decontamination on all the slaughter premises, and know over time whether we were improving, relative to the interventions on offer.
And there were a range of interventions that could be put in place, and we tested a number of those, in terms of different improvements, in how you dress and eviscerate poultry, how you may decontaminate chlorination of chill tanks – all those sorts of things through the operational research. And the key thing is here that the NMD has joint ownership between industry and the government.
It is a very highly specified system, in terms of accreditation and performance, but largely, industry carry it out, and the government verifies that it is quality data over time. And what we were able to do, as we built up this monitoring data and all of the sort of premises throughout the country, is not only look at long-run performance, but also compare different premises against each other.
And we were able to quite readily see, through a ranking system, those that were performing well and those that weren't performing well. This National Micro Database has been taken up in some shape and form in other countries, but it's fair to say that we still probably have the most comprehensive monitoring system globally, in terms of campylobacter performance in poultry slaughterhouses.
The second thing I mentioned was the regulatory limit, and this was another very innovative approach taken by the regulator – and quite a chancy one, because we were actually regulating performance for the first time for a fresh meat product. And still, globally, no other country has actually done this, where they've set a performance target with very strong regulatory consequences, if industry doesn't come into line following a reasonable time, when they do have a non-compliance, and an opportunity to get back into compliance.
It's based on a carcass rinse program. I don't need to go into the details here, but it has several elements, in terms of enumerating campylobacter on a rinsed carcass so that we actually know the numbers. And secondarily, looking at the prevalence – in other words, the rate of infected birds, which is a different statistic.
And you'll see why a bit later why it's really important to not only know the concentration of campylobacter on the birds – as you would expect, there's probably a high risk associated with that – but we also need to know the rate, the prevalence of infected birds, as well. We also recognized in a pragmatic way that there were a lot of small poultry processors around the country, so we had to accommodate those in a reasonable way, not put too much of a regulatory burden on them, relative to the possible risk they presented.
So they had particular dispensations, relative to the regulatory performance target. At the same time as we've got a regulatory target in place, we've got a National Micro Database to monitor progress. We also continued, in a formal way, with the work through the EpiLab at Massey University, led by Nigel French – the work that was begun by our PhD student – to set up a sentinel site, because we needed to know, over time, were things changing?
You have already seen how people's consumption of chicken markedly changed. There's a lot of other changes, when you monitor and try and improve a communicable disease. People's behaviour in the kitchen changes. Where people live changes, from rural to urban. So there's a lot of things you need to know, if you're going to be a responsible regulator and have a science-based approach.
So this ran from 2005 to 2017 – a major investment for government, in terms of monitoring source attribution. But we really needed to monitor, over time, where were these cases in humans coming from, how much was foodborne versus other sources such as swimming, occupational exposure, water supplies, etc, so we could place interventions where we were going to get the biggest bang for our buck.
So the outcomes of all this work in terms of strategy development, monitoring interventions, and specialist academic investigation. This is the risk management outcome that you can see carrying forward right through to 2018. So the blue bands are effectively the number of cases.
And you can see that, when we put in place the strategy, we started acting over that 2006 to 2007 period, in relation to the poultry industry, we got virtually a 50% reduction in the number of human cases over quite a short time. And that told us that our source attribution work was accurate. The interventions that industry put in place were very positive. And that was a massive decrease, in terms of truncating the epidemic.
You can also see, as we've tracked forward from that time, we haven't made a hell of a lot of progress since. We have plateaued around a number of notifiable cases, and it is obviously an issue for us, as a regulatory agency, to understand why what we have done since that initial period hasn't had the dramatic effect we would wish for, and why we haven't continued to significantly reduce this epidemic of campylobacter in our country.
You can see there some of the modelling work, as well, about the cost of this disease. This is work done through the medical people that have been involved. And an estimated $50 to $70 million per year saved initially via the 50% reduction, but we’re still continuing to bear quite a load, in terms of the burden of human illness.
So we're in the scenario where we've still got quite a problem. And we're looking at our national monitoring database to tell us what's happening, where should we spend our money next? And this is a very interesting slide that shows the power of our NMD. And you can see here the human notifications tracking along in the blue over that period, August '07 right through to December '13.
And you can see the percentage of positive carcasses coming through our poultry slaughterhouses. And no one could deny the association in that pattern around the poultry exposure pathway. The interesting thing is, with our regulatory target, we were looking at both the rate of infected carcasses, so that could be carcasses with only 2,000 – I think element of detection is about 2,000 organisms per carcass.
We're also interested in this idea of high concentration. Did that generate more risk? But you can see the association is not quite the same when we're looking at the high-count carcasses, the second graph. It still mimics the general notification trend, but it doesn't go up and down with the fluctuations year by year that you see from the prevalence rate.
This is another graph from our NMD right up through to 2018 data. And what you can see here is monitoring over time in all our slaughterhouses.
Firstly, the top line, the orange line, shows the number of samples, and this represents the expansion of our industry. As we've regulated through different slaughterhouses and introduced different classes of poultry including turkeys, etc, end-of-lay birds, the number of samples that are actually monitored in types has dramatically increased. And this reflects the scale of domestic consumption of poultry in NZ.
If we look at the middle line, you can see that the percentage of positive samples has actually decreased, and continues to decrease. We've already had our 50% reduction around 2006 2007, due to a dramatic improvement in hygiene practices in slaughterhouses. And industry have continued to work with government to improve process hygiene. And it has resulted in a gradual decrease over time, in terms of the number of infected birds, but we've still got this very high rate, as you saw from the previous graph, plateauing, in terms of human cases.
When we look at the concentration on the birds, a similar pattern – we got a dramatic drop, when we improve process hygiene in the slaughterhouses, but we've only had a gradual improvement since then. But it is quite low now. It's between 1% and 2% high counts. Nevertheless, with these gradual improvements, we are still seeing a high number of foodborne human cases with poultry genotypes.
So this is some recent work from the EpiLab under Nigel French at Massey University, which tells a really interesting story around some of these shifts, and why we need a strong evidence base, if we are going to manage this disease properly. These two graphs, the top two and the bottom two represent two different modelling approaches. And this looks at work from the Massey sentinel site over 2005–2014. And the power of that sentinel site is it contains both urban and rural populations, and mixed populations. And what they've done under this program is look at the attribution over time, firstly, in the first period – 2005 to 2007 – the initial stage of the epidemic. Later on, when we're 50% number of cases down through '08, '14.
And some of the patterns that emerge here are very apparent. If we look, as you can see from rural to urban, across the bottom, you'll see that, rurally, at the time of the peak of the epidemic, about 50% of rural cases were due to poultry molecular genotype strains. As we move into the urban population through the Manawatu sentinel site, you'll see the percentage of poultry source isolates goes way high – 80%. And this reflects the different exposure pathways to poultry through food consumption in those populations, and preparation, and all those other things in the mix.
The blue one is the ruminants. We're not separated here between sheep and beef, but you could see rural people are obviously exposed to contaminated animals, not showing clinical symptoms through their occupation, through rural drinking water supplies that aren't chlorinated, through swimming – all sorts of ways.
So the ruminants in the rural area are causing quite a few cases. When you move into the urban area, on the right-hand side of those graphs, then the proportion of ruminant cases drops remarkably, compared to the ones that come from poultry. 2008–2014, the graphs have shifted, but largely the same pattern.
We've obviously got lesser numbers of poultry, because we've had a 50% halving, so proportionately, the rural the ruminants look higher. But nevertheless, we've still got quite a distinct difference between cases in rural settings compared to urban settings. And the bottom set just represent a different approach to modelling.
So what have we done over the intervening time between this initial level of success and the subsequent plateauing? We recognized in 2015 that we had to do more. We recognized this plateauing wasn't acceptable, in terms of what was still a very high incidence of campylobacter on a worldwide scale.
So we set in place an improvement target of 10% over 2015 to 2020 – modest, not great, but at that stage, we didn't quite know what we were going to do to further improve the pathways, in terms of minimizing exposure, particularly to poultry. And clearly, it's very difficult to do much, in terms of the pathways associated with ruminants because all of our evidence was that wasn't foodborne. That was due to other exposures.
We also had a big wake-up call in the Havelock North waterborne event, which I'm sure you all read about – 2016 I think it was. And there were up to 5,000 cases of campylobacteriosis over a very short period due to a contaminated water supply that hadn't been chlorinated, and grazing animals had contaminated that water.
And so this illustrates part of the conundrum we're faced with, that this is not all about foodborne, it's not all about poultry. But as a regulator looking after the food chain, we need to know proportionately where we're going to get the best bang for our buck.
You'll see, after setting up this relatively modest target, we report back to our food safety advisory board every 6 months. And we've only been able to report trending in and out of this 10% reduction over the last 3 or 4 years, as you all have seen from that human notification graph. So we're not really there, in terms of continuing the significant improvement we need. Another issue we need to raise, again, raised by our academic partners at Massey, was the emergence of anti-microbial resistance for the first time on any level in strains isolated from poultry.
And the emergence of the strain ST 6964, only identified because of the very sophisticated genetic modelling that's done at Massey – and again, they're world-leading partner in this work – they were able to map, through the sentinel site, the spread of this new strain.
It's presumed, from its genotype fingerprint, to have come from China. It spread very rapidly through poultry suppliers in the Manawatu area. It's spread wider. There’s this current study going on as to how that could possibly happen in a vertically integrated system. And also, we're at the stage now where about 10% of human isolates are this anti-microbial resistant strain.
Fortunately for us, even though it's resistant to tetracycline and fluoroquinolone, they are not the drugs of choice and New Zealand, where you have invasive campylobacteriosis. Also, it is a general medical principle that, for diarrhoea, you don't treat it with antibiotics, so probably more than 90% of cases aren't treated.
So in a way, we're dodging a bullet with this strain, but it does represent how things change, not only in terms of exposure of the consumer, but also in terms of the organism itself and its pathogenicity and anti-microbial resistance.
So I mentioned risk modelling as one of our investments, in terms of our strategy. And risk models are where we want to take all the available data we have, and we need to predict what might happen in the future. And always there's some uncertainty. It's quantitative. It requires high science, but it can give you a very good roadmap as to what you need to do, in terms of setting a performance target and where you can focus in the food chain to get the best benefit from the money spent.
So we can look at either the whole system and decide if we reduce the contamination rate, for instance, in poultry, in birds presented to the consumer – what's the benefit, in terms of risk reduction – or we can look at a particular part of the food chain, such as biosecurity on farm, primary processing, retail and distribution, even consumer habits and handling in the kitchen – and estimate what proportion of the damage is being done at each step.
Obviously, once we get this information, we need to work closely with industry about what are pragmatic interventions. There's not a lot of point in modelling risk reductions and then finding out it's going to cost you $1 million to achieve a certain gain in one part of the food chain, when, in another part, you may be able to spend $100,000 and achieve the same gain, e.g. through consumer education.
So here's a little modelling output that we've just recently completed, and this looks at modelling broiler contamination and human foodborne campylobacteriosis in the simplest sense. And again, this brings forward this notion of the power of our NMD, and the importance of knowing not only the number of infected birds going through, but the level of contamination.
And you can see here a predicted notification rate, when things change over our current contamination spectrum that we have with poultry. Along the top line, 20% of birds are positive at our enumeration target of greater than 3.78 – our high count – and 2% of carcasses… I'm sorry, across the top, they're positive, but they're under our high count.
And down the side, they're positive, but they're above our high count. And you can see, if we've got 20% and 2%, we're predicting 40 cases, in a very conservative model, per 100,000 people are getting sick from poultry-borne campylobacteriosis. This is a very conservative model. The current rate, we estimate about 80 per 100,000.
But nevertheless, the relativity here is in the illustration. If we can drop that carcass positive rate to 10%, and we can keep the number of high-count birds above 3.78 to 1%, we can have that human campylobacteriosis foodborne rate. So this tells us, at least here's a marker, a stake in the ground to what we could aim for, if it's pragmatic and possible, in terms of reducing further poultry contamination.
Now, the source-assigned case control study, which we are just writing up at the moment, has really been the culmination of the last 2 years of putting a lot of this data together I've talked about through ongoing sentinel site at Massey, our NMD monitoring. Even though we're not doing much operational research at the moment, compared to in the past, there are a couple of studies that have gone forward. One's a chlorination trial with industry around higher levels of chlorination in chill tanks. We've invested in a source-assigned case control study which has looked at particularly urban and rural populations, with a focus on Auckland.
We've suspected, with all this data that shows us, we've still got an intractable problem and have still got a strong poultry association. Why is that? So we've spent more than $1 million on the study over the last 2 years, and we're just writing it up. While it's been funded by us, again it represents that cross-stakeholder nature of what we're doing.
We've worked with ESR as a contract provider with Massey and EpiLab, who have done a lot of the analytical work around source attribution, and the industry, as well, and consumer interest groups, in terms of designing the investigative studies, and of course, the Ministry of Health that have done all of the epidemiological follow-up for our cases, which are about 800 across the study area – so a massive amount of work.
And we can't release the results as yet, but it is showing, in fact, that poultry is clearly a major player ongoing, in terms of this human illness problem we are faced with. We will also be able to get from the study not only the risk factors. As an example, even though you know a food pathway such as poultry-associated human cases, is it barbecuing in summer which is a high risk factor? Is that the people that aren't preparing their food in the kitchen themselves, and are buying ready-to-eat, that is another risk factor in poultry food exposure pathway? All of these things we've got great faith that this study is going to really help us in directing where we go next, in terms of trying to manage this problem.
So as you can probably guess from all this, with our new food strategy being launched, and Bryan's sitting anxiously on the edge of his seat, we are really rethinking what we need to do here, in terms of foodborne campylobacteriosis.
Our notification rates are still high on an international basis. We are billing ourselves as a world-leading food safety agency, and we have a food safety issue to deal with here. So there's a real incentive to rethink our strategy and our investment with our industry, consumer, and academic partners into how we can improve the situation.
As we've said, we've halved the rates initially, but improvements since then have been modest. And we do need to, as I said, work with our partners and see how we can best manage what is still our priority foodborne disease in New Zealand.
The other issue that comes from all this is, should we set another performance target? Do we need to goad ourselves forward, sign up to something, and say, yip, we're going to work hard to achieve this and monitor progress with our 2 world-class systems? One's the NMD in poultry. The second is the Human Notifiable Disease Database managed by ESR for the Ministry of Health, which is a high-quality and accurate system.
So a refreshed risk management strategy and work plan for campy. We will obviously continue through this process that I've explained, in terms of the tools we have available, but we will always base our next steps on science and risk assessment. We can't do random things that we think are going to work, and then sit back and see if they do work, and whether or not we achieve our performance target.
We may change. We are in the process of changing, in a minor way, the regulatory performance target, because if we are looking at a target around reducing human illness, obviously we've got to look to performance of industry, in terms of contributing to that.
We know that we need to look at new social science approaches, because one of the key risk factors in campylobacteriosis in all countries is consumer behaviour and awareness – how they manage the food they buy in the supermarket, even in terms of packaging, what they do when they get at home, how they unwrap, and how they cross-contaminate on working surfaces, and present food.
The UKFSA – I was over there recently talking to them about collaborative work – they've just established, as an example, a 12-person social science team to look at this part of the food chain, not only for campylobacter, but for other foodborne diseases. Because it's that understanding you need. It's not enough just telling people you should do this. They need to understand, not only get the message, understand it and act to it. And there's a lot of social science investment needed to achieve that gain.
A refocus on biosecurity – we did a lot of early work in our strategy around biosecurity on farm, and we found that it was very, very difficult to exclude campylobacteriosis from broiler chicken. There's a lot of pathways for entry at farm level, despite a very high level of biosecurity, for a range of reasons, because of all these carriers of campylobacter that exist in the environment – water, wild birds, people's overalls, whatever it is. And so we went away from trying to control it at farm level to trying to reduce it during processing level.
There's a rethink going on in Europe, in particular, around this at the moment. They are claiming gains to be had from higher biosecurity status, and we need to look at that, in terms of our risk management approach. Another thing that changes – it's not only the bug, it's not only the people and the pathways –it's the diagnostic methodologies used to monitor.
And we're moving more and more out of a culture environment for notifiable disease cases into a PCR or molecular environment, because it's better and easier for labs to do that. So we need to understand, if we're looking at these long-run trends, that we're genuinely comparing data with data that's matching.
So the bottom line there – I hope this doesn't make Bryan nervous – but we are really committing to refreshing our risk management strategy and setting a new aspirational target for foodborne campylobacteriosis. We do believe there's a lot more work to do. We're not sure exactly how we're going to get there, but it will be evidence-based, it'll be reasoned, and we will be monitoring our performance. Thank you.
[End of transcript]
Robyn Kruk: It's interesting on Steven's paper, which is equally relevant to the Australian context. Because we've looked at, with some envy, at the work you've done and successes you've had – the partnerships, in relation to campy. But the whole question about whether setting a target actually – how influential that was, in terms of changing the behaviour – and that's one of the discussions that they're having around the policy table, in terms of ministers, at the moment, for the broader approach, as well too.
I mean, the learnings are quite significant here. And what's impressive is just that the quality of the evidence base that goes into working out what is going to have the most impact, in terms of changing outcomes – on one hand, it's scary to see, but on the other hand, it's also incredibly reassuring to see the depth of the analysis, in relation to looking at the vectors and the attribution of what the major issues are and where you're going to get the maximum bang for buck.
So I take comfort in it. I'll look at my chicken again a bit differently tonight, but that's not a bad thing, because the awareness issue is a really significant one – what you can do in your own home.
Audience question: Paul Harris, I'm a food technologist. My question is for Steve concerning sous-vide playing around with some minimally processed food. Certainly concerned about sous-viding chicken. Are there any guidelines that we're looking at for temperature/time for sous-vide processing of chilled chicken – starting from chilled chicken, rather than from frozen chicken?
Steve Hathaway: Yeah, a good question. And there are guidelines available around sous-vide. It does throw up a question, and a bit of a challenge, at the moment, for us, and that's with duck. And we don't have guidelines for duck, but the best chefs in town will want duck that's very barely cooked and we are finding that ducks are highly contaminated with campylobacter. So that's one of the little operational research projects we're working on at the moment, as to what's an appropriate time/temperature handling guideline for duck versus chilled poultry in the restaurant. But in answer to your question, there are guidelines available for chilled chicken. We need to extend them and massage them for specialist duck.
Audience question: Hi. [Inaudible] group quality systems managers from Sanford. I was just wondering the rates of campylo notifications versus the world. Have you compared that to the amount of chicken New Zealanders consume versus the rest of the world?
Steve Hathaway: No, not directly. There has been some work done, but all I can say is that what we're experiencing here is pretty much being experienced in most Western countries. And their notifications system is probably not as accurate and as aware as ours. We believe ours genuinely reflects human cases.
Medics in New Zealand are very, very highly aware of this disease, and it's notified everywhere. I would assume that poultry – fresh meat poultry consumption's going up in other countries, similar to ours, but direct comparison I don't know.
Bryan Wilson, Deputy Director-General, New Zealand Food Safety: So I've got one question, Steve. What's the reporting rate, do you think, of campylobacter illness?
Steve Hathaway: So if we take the general pattern – and it varies with, you know, different experts will have a different view on the true rate of infection of gastrointestinal disease versus the notified rate – I believe it's something like 12 times. Some medical professionals will say the actual rate of infection is 12 times the notified rate. I wouldn't quote that as a fact, because different people have different views.
But to have a notified rate, we need a culture. And there needs to be a submission, and it needs to be so the whole lab follow-through is there. And a lot of GPs will, with the diarrhoea, they won't specifically go to a cause. They will just treat it as a general diarrhoea. So I think you can work on 11 or 12 times the notified rate is probably the true rate.
Audience question: David Bayliss, food safety consultant. Just a general question on New Zealand food safety. We've had speakers from FSANZ talking about food safety. What is the relationship between FSANZ and the new MPI represented by New Zealand Food Safety? Is there going to be an amalgamating of regulations, given that the Food Standards Code –
Bryan Wilson: I'll have a first cut to cover this. So New Zealand Food Safety remains part of MPI. New Zealand Food Safety is the key relationship between New Zealand and FSANZ, so we participate in the FSANZ processes. We provide recommendations to our government at the end of a FSANZ process about what to do with it, and almost always we agree.
Occasionally, there will be something where New Zealand will want to have a different standard than Australia, but that's quite rare. Organizationally, there's no proposal to change the way we relate to FSANZ or the engagement processes. So the FSANZ labelling and composition processes are a core part of the standards which we enforce, as New Zealand Food Safety and MPI.
David Bayliss: And do you perceive that the standards that are part of the Food Standards Code that relate to food safety – would they remain separate for Australia and covered by the Food Act?
Bryan Wilson: So the food standards that FSANZ sets are almost always across Australia and New Zealand. So we have a common standard. The enforcement agencies are different, because we're in different countries. Sometimes there's variation in that, but it's not hugely significant. Does that answer the question?
David Bayliss: I think it does, but it's just – New Zealand has the food regulations, which cover the food safety, whereas FSANZ has the Food Standards Code –
Bryan Wilson: So the code sets the standards for composition and labelling. Other standards are set in New Zealand, like standards about do you have to register? Yes, you do. Who with? Councils or MPI. What processes do you need to put in place in order to gain and maintain registration? That's all set here in New Zealand by New Zealand Food Safety.
Essentially, at the highest level, you need a plan, and you should be able to demonstrate that you can comply with the plan and deliver safe food. That's what the standards and the registration-setting is about. That's all New Zealand-based. Australians have slightly different systems to do that. They're sort of comparable, but they are different, and they're run out of Australia.
Glen Neal, General Manager from Food Standards Australia New Zealand: Yeah, so chapters 3 and 4 of the code are Australia only, and there're the rules that MPI sets. As Bryan’s indicated there's no proposal to look at merging those things. But certainly, when both countries develop standards in this area, we do pay attention to each other for the purpose of figuring out who's got the best ideas, but also for the purpose of ensuring that we remain in touch with each other to ensure that our trade remains to be facilitated.
Steve Hathaway: And just on things like infectious disease, like campylobacter, New Zealand and Australia work separately around those sort of public health issues and regulation. So the infectious disease side of it is still relatively independent, but we still talk to each other, obviously, in terms of intelligence.
Robyn Kruk: That's where the benefits are. I wasn't joking, when I was saying earlier that, wearing my health hat originally, we looked very seriously at what New Zealand was doing, because you'd been leaders in this area for some time. We've got the traction. So there are a lot of discussions underway at all times between our jurisdictions. And thinking early – and this is the leadership, again, of Bryan and his team looking at what really can be further alliances on the food safety front – the research front, and areas like that.
But both of us have – the strength of having a notifiable disease mechanism behind it is incredibly significant. And that's where China looks at with envy, in terms of your whole risk assessment mechanisms. They’re so much strengthened by having the real-time ability to make judgments about the impact of various strategies can't be understated. I told you it was a complex system. I'm sorry.
Glen Neal: And maybe – if I could just touch on an aspect which kind of brings both the subjects together, and that is I was keenly interested in Steve's presentation, in terms of the potential next steps for New Zealand's control of campylobacter. Because one thing that I was looking for is whether or not MPI is thinking about potentially label changes for consumers.
And so that scenario, that would really show how the system works because, if there was to be a label change, then that is something that New Zealand could well explore in conjunction with Australians. And if Australians think that that's a good idea, and they may well do that, because, just as an aside, the campy chart that Steve showed which highlights that New Zealand's world champs at campylobacter, there's a similar chart that's wheeled around in Australia.
And that shows that Australia, compared to New Zealand, are world champs at getting salmonellosis. So both of those, it could be argued, might be better controlled through changes to food labelling, in which case there would be, potentially, a joint exploration of whether or not the code should change for both countries.
Audience question: Cecilia from Foodstuffs. Just in relation to the plan on consumer education, what sort of plan, budget, and ETA do you have for that? Because I believe that would benefit a lot, in terms of addressing this issue.
Bryan Wilson: So we're working through that at the moment. We don't have a specific plan. You'll see, as part of our consultation on the food safety strategy, there's a section on consumer awareness. We are very interested in what you've got to say. We think that's an area where we have probably under-invested over the last few years, and we need to do more on it – so thinking through what exactly that will look like, at the moment.
Robyn Kruk: Can I just touch on the whole issue of the consumer aspects? We're a skill-based board, and certainly one of our members over the past few years has been from Choice, so a very strong consumer aspect. So a lot of our discussions are increasingly – particularly with FSANZ's expertise growing in the behavioural science aspect – is what works.
Will labelling actually change consumer behaviour? I mean, you know yourself this is a very opinion-rich time in this space, and particularly in the food space. We were talking about green tea this morning and the impacts of green tea. So to actually – to get a good understanding of what is the most significant driver for behavioural change is a very significant gain in this space.
But again, it comes down to, is that going to be more effectively done on labelling, or is that going to be done through other mechanisms to actually get that traction from a consumer perspective? So that is increasingly internationally also an area where I think some major gains need to be had.
And the issue of awareness – we all talk about an informed public, and we pride ourselves by seeing our social media reach expanding, but we're not anywhere near the reach of Pete Evans and the paleo diet. So a lot of the challenges in the public health arena, but in the food safety arena more generally, is getting a head around what actually will change behaviour.
What will make me do things differently in the kitchen or my handling of food, from point of pickup to actually home, to reduce some of those issues? And in Australia, the salmonella deaths were really significant in getting a heightened awareness. Did we take full advantage of using that as a behaviour-change issue? These are the things that we're learning, as well.
Bryan Wilson: So while we're on labelling, can I just do a totally unscientific survey? I've done this a few times. When you guys are in the supermarket buying something, who looks at the label?
From the audience: Tragic.
Bryan Wilson: So that's quite interesting. I did that with my team, and I got the same answer. I do a little bit – not very much. My family doesn't at all.
Robyn Kruk: Could I – just to tell an anecdote – I was listening to talkback radio at 4 o'clock one morning, driving late, and the question was labelling, the nutritional panels. And you get the truck drivers and all of the insomniacs at that hour of night, so it's a rarefied audience anyway.
But the messages were so salient. Most people actually looked at the labels that rang in. And they said, well, we don't know whether, you know, is 5 a good number, or is 5 a bad number, and what does a bad number look like, and what happens – it was really quite interesting. So there was a higher reach of labelling, which is consistent with our own work.
But the issue is, is the information that people are reading sufficiently meaningful for them to change behaviour? And that's why I focus on the behavioural sciences, as well. That's why, whenever we meet with industry, one of the questions we ask is, what are your studies showing, as well too?
So to get the benefit of a growing knowledge base across the non-government sector, across all sectors to see where people are actually – what are the drivers to change behaviour? And I think that is, ultimately, a significant determinant in all of these safety issues.
Glen Neal: Can I just add something to that? One of the aspects of food labelling relates to recalls. So Robyn mentioned that about – we had, in Australia, last year about 100 food recalls. 50% of those were due to undeclared allergens. And 50% – we now go back and do some root cause analysis with the companies concerned, and we've identified that 50% of the undeclared allergen issues are due to simply, on the line in the factory, the wrong product is put into the wrong package.
So if you want to – if there's a take-home message for those of you who work on the factory floor, pay attention to packaging and making sure the right product goes in the right package.
Robyn Kruk: And there is a dollar value attached to that straight away, I believe. So, quite amazing.
Audience question: On that packaging topic, in regards to self-packaging, when you walk into a supermarket, take your own containers, are you guys looking into the whole fact that – some kind of labelling strategy around what people are actually utilizing, what containers they bring into the store, and how they're going away with information to let them know what's going on?
Robyn Kruk: Mark, I feel that’s your question.
Mark (audience member): Thank you for that, Robyn.
This is consumer-driven behaviour at the retail end. We can work with what the consumer wants, but we also need to work with the risk-based risk assessment. How do we control the hazard that suddenly is being introduced?
We don't have an education piece for customers. We have signage in the store. We control it by assessing the container they bring in. Is it visibly clean? If not, we'll reject it. We will also do an extra clean. But I've got to acknowledge that that doesn't make it sterile, so we do rely on the consumer. And that could all change, if we have suddenly a big issue. Then, sorry, consumers, we won't follow what you're looking for. But it's a changing space, as you pointed out, Robyn.
Robyn Kruk: Can I touch – we had quite a major session in Homebush last year with a very broadly based group, as well. And there was a lot of discussion about the expectations of the millennials. We had a nice different age group. I think I was the outrider in terms of age. But it was a very interesting discussion for regulators to see what the expectations were of government, the expectations of the individual of government, and the whole tension about more regulation and less regulation.
I think that's one of the underpinnings of what we are looking at, as well too, in terms of the proportionality. But there is no doubt that we are getting increasing requests for a whole range of issues about source of food – the whole ethical dimension. There are a whole range of issues that people raised, quite legitimately, because they're concerned through consultations that have to do with a range of other things than straight food safety – where they're sourced in the instance of palm oil, a whole range of those issues.
So the complexity of the consumer group and their expectations is something that we do not underestimate in any way. Mark's hit the nail on the head as well, too. There's a whole range of different consumer preferences in shopping and retail outlets, and that sort of stuff that go with that, as well.
[End of transcript]
1. Food regulation now and in the future
This lecture focused on Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). FSANZ develops food standards for Australia and New Zealand.
The Food Standards Code is enforced by state and territory departments, agencies, and local councils in Australia, the Ministry for Primary Industries in New Zealand, and the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources for food imported into Australia.
Robyn discusses the bi-national food regulation system and the key drivers affecting the system, the context for modernisation, FSANZ’s response to change, and what the future holds for the food standards body.
This topic focuses on the foodborne illness Campylobacteriosis and explores the historical and current challenges posed to food safety experts.
Campylobacter is a bacterium that can be found in raw chicken meat, offal, raw milk and raw milk products, and other foods. It is the most common foodborne disease in New Zealand, with chicken meat the most common source of foodborne Campylobacter.
Although historically New Zealand has one of the highest rates of notified foodborne Campylobacteriosis in the world, it is important to realise that there are differences between countries in the way data is collected and that this makes it difficult to compare rates of illness without in-depth studies of factors that determine the rate.
New Zealand Food Safety has prioritised our work around Campylobacter to further reduce illness, and our research around the different sources of Campylobacter and how people get infected.
Dr Steve Hathaway (chief food safety scientist, New Zealand Food Safety)
Steve has a long involvement in food safety research and the development of regulatory food control systems and standards, initially as director of programme development in the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, through to his current position as the chief food safety scientist for New Zealand Food Safety. He has more than 250 publications in science journals and conference proceedings.
Robyn Kruk, AO (chairperson, Food Standards Australia New Zealand)
Robyn has extensive experience as chief executive of national and state policy, regulatory and service delivery agencies, including New South Wales (NSW) Health, NSW Premier and Cabinet and national and state environment agencies. She established and served as inaugural chief executive/commissioner of the National Mental Health Commission.
Glen Neal (general manager, Food Standards Australia New Zealand)
Glen is currently the general manager of the Food Standards Branch, which is responsible for setting labelling, nutrition and product safety standards for both countries. He is also responsible for oversight of the agencies’ finances. He has extensive experience in food safety both in New Zealand and Australia.
Bryan Wilson (deputy director-general, New Zealand Food Safety)
Bryan is the deputy director-general for New Zealand Food Safety. He is responsible for the Ministry for Primary Industries’ regulatory activities and functions across the food safety and primary production systems. Previously Bryan has worked in regulation across a range of industries in New Zealand and Australia.
Lecture 2: Building confidence in New Zealand's food system
Video – Building confidence in New Zealand's food system (1:08.32)
Nadine Tunley, CE Oha Honey: Good morning.
So prior to coming today, I didn't really know my audience because I hadn't had a chance to check that out, sorry. But I'm quite pleased to see that I think a number of you are industry-based. I'm not entirely sure how many are international or domestically focused. For me, as Bryan said, I'm currently the CEO of Oha Honey, but have a number of other roles in agribusiness across different companies in New Zealand.
And from me, you will get probably the realities of what food safety systems means in an operational perspective. And though Paul sort of was apprehensive about his introduction, it's always really important to get technical. And it's really, for me, today I thought, oh god, I hope I'm not talking to a bunch of scientists. So it's quite important to hear both sides of the equation.
So when I got asked to do this topic today, I did a quick, as everyone does, a quick Google search and thought, food safety systems. And ironically, the very first thing that popped up for me was over 500 New Zealanders per day get food poisoning. I thought, oh my god, that's 180,000 people a year. I found that quite high, and I wasn't quite sure. And interestingly, Campylobacter where Bryan just said “I've had that and that was the most horrendous experience of my life.” Worse than childbirth, I thought.
But interestingly, it's a big number. If that is correct, that's a big number. So that then caused me to do a little bit more research. And the numbers do vary. They do jump around quite a bit. But it does appear there's not less than 135 New Zealanders a week getting some form of probably reasonably significant food poisoning.
So that's a lot, which takes you into thinking about food safety and, as a person, what we think that means, let alone the systems that protect us from any of the issues around it. All of the things that surround that – and I was glad to hear Bryan sort of say, you know, controversial stuff, but also when we talk food safety, particularly from a perspective like mine, we very quickly go into topics like GMO, GE, organics versus conventional growing, OMARs and ICPRs, being overseas market access requirements which are required for food products of a certain type out of New Zealand and importing country phytosanitary requirements. So there's a lot of systems and a lot of complexity for us out there.
So my question to talk to you about, does trust in food safety systems mean the same for different segments of society? For me, it was about breaking that question down a little bit to what is a food safety system, and then the segments of society.
So prior to the 1970s, food safety was not politically, scientifically, or socially an issue, or even considered really. One of the earliest food safety incidences took place in 944 AD in France. 40,000 people died from ergotism. That's a bit of a serial kind of issue. However, back then, no one referred to this as a food scare, a food hazard, or even a moral panic.
The first time that food scare appeared in media, print media, was in the mid-1980s around Tylenol, which were tablets being laced with cyanide. But now, we've moved on, we call that bioterrorism. This means food safety systems have really only evolved over the last 50 years. And whether you're a farmer, a consumer, a retail, or a vertically integrated enterprise, food safety systems will impact you. They touch on every part of society because human beings need to eat to sustain life.
These two pictures intrigued me when I looked at them. The one on this side, from my perspective, because I do have the privilege of working with the actual producers right back at the farms, that's how they would probably often look at it, that you go from the cow or the fishing boat, and what your responsibility is in that system is to make sure, by the time it hits the restaurants, the retailers, and the consumers, that it's a safe product. And it's really hard. Those people put a lot of faith in everybody along that chain, particularly through that distribution and processing power.
On the far left-hand side is more what we deal with every day in the business. And if I was to talk to one of my farmers about HACCPs or ISOs or GFSs, they would be like – or BRC, even, some of them don't even understand that sort of safety component. So it is quite a broad topic, and something that's difficult for many to get their head around.
Interestingly, when we talk about different segments of society, as well, we have to look – I think we fail to look quite often to our younger generations. We forget about diversity of ethnicities, religion. There are so many things that are actually involved in that question. And from my perspective, I thought the best way to look at it was as a CEO of a food company, someone who's also a director on a number of agribusiness boards, a mother, and a consumer.
So when I first started to think about the topic and doing this presentation to you today, I just actually wrote down a whole lot of stuff. And interestingly, when I mapped it this was what stood out. And Fonterra, unfortunately, is up there. But again, for me, milk products, olive oil, and honey are the three highest adulterated products in the globe. Milk products, obviously, for obvious reasons is up there as number one. And olive oil for a long time has been around and been adulterated. Manuka honey is quite new to that environment, but we produce roughly and export around 8,000 tons annually, and 30,000 tons is sold globally. So that tells us how bad it is.
One of the other things, like the fact that food safety and stuff like that was not really discussed prior to the 1970s, is the massive shift in media. Social media, print media, everything, we're saturated with information at our fingertips every minute of the day. For those on Twitter and all of the other apps that sit out there currently, it is actually pushed at you, depending on what topics or things that you are involved in, and come to your attention quite quickly.
The other thing that stands out in this for me, particularly, was the weighting of different countries. Interestingly, New Zealand doesn't feature strongly in it. But if you look through Europe, Netherlands, Belgium, those countries have had a lot of issues for a lot longer, population-driven the majority of the time. China, funnily enough, was smaller. And that was maybe just because of that stuff I was reading through and capturing and taking notes on. But overall, no matter what part of society you're from, you're absolutely assured that's going to affect you in some way, shape, or form.
When I asked the question to a number of people and my staff, actually, I thought I'd go out there, I'd do a bit of a survey: what does food safety mean? I've got four PhD people on my staff, as well as right through to people who are in hives and in the factory. And interestingly enough, not one person really had any concerns in New Zealand. Pretty much the common answer was, I just assume it's taken care of.
And I sort of thought, that's interesting. So I probed that a little bit further. They work – we have a processing, bottling plant. We do everything from hive to market. And when I tested my staff, not that I overly want to disclose this, but I look at our food safety habits, and the hive and things like that, and sometimes, I would say, that – I would probably say they're questionable – haven't come out of horticulture, which is a much more matured industry, into honey in the last 2 and 1/2 years. It's got a long way to go.
And that's one thing that puts us at risk, often, is that, in New Zealand, where new, young, fledgling industries come into food, particularly export, because we export generally 80% to 90% of our products because we don't have the population to consume, any new products that we put out there puts everyone at risk. And that's why Fonterra probably sits up there so strongly. I'll show you some stats after this. But they are the front face for New Zealand in a lot of places. So when Fonterra has an issue, we all have an issue.
But with new products coming online – and Manuka Honey is one of them – if we start having issues, then we cause every other primary sector a problem. So it's really difficult because we do need to collectively understand the importance of this topic. And when you're trying to survive and you're a small operator, sometimes it's hard to have that big-picture thinking.
Interestingly, if I asked the same question on China about what food safety means, or parts of Europe, and definitely the USA, I'd get a very different response. And again, that is because of things that have happened in their countries and things that they have become quite sensitive to. And China, particularly, is big on food safety. From our marketing department, one of the biggest sort of areas that we use to promote and to sell our products into China is safety, the word “safe”. We can be trusted, and our food is safe. So yeah, right down at the basic level of sales, food safety is critical for all of us.
These are some of the things that have happened internationally right back, sort of – 1981 was as far as I thought we needed to go back, but because of the olive oil discussion. 1,200 people died from tainted oil that was colza oil, which was sold as a substitute for olive oil. But the impact that had, that incident, on the sales of olive oil was substantial. And it lasted for a considerable amount of time. So that's the problem. Whenever we have an issue arise, you've always got to remember that it's a long time until we get over it.
Mad cow disease, funnily enough, that still haunts a lot of people for different reasons. I don't know if you're blood donors in this room, but if you were in the UK for certain years, of which I was lucky enough to be one of those people, you're actually not suitable to donate blood in New Zealand. So you know, these things have long-lasting impacts.
Perrier water, which we all know about, they had to recall 160 million bottles around the world at the time when they had their issue. The cost of doing recalls of product is substantial, and often destroys businesses. So it is something we want to avoid at all costs. Not only that, the damage to your brand is considerable.
Chickengate was an interesting one. I hadn't really heard of that, so I was quite intrigued when I started to look into it. But again, you know, the impacts from those kind of things. That egg industry today even in Europe, people… I rang a couple of people and had a conversation – they still remember it, and they're still affected by how they purchase chicken and eggs in Europe.
Coca-Cola, they had several recalls, 3 alone in 1999. Again, it was just poor, probably not well-considered practices that were occurring, and how those cross-contaminations of some of those practices that you would never have expected should have affected the product did, particularly the treatment of the wooden pallets. You would think, how does Coca-Cola get affected? But again, when there's poor practices in place, cross-contamination in food can happen very easily.
The one at the bottom where 30 Italians died from bottled water contamination – the police suspected on that one that that was injected into those bottles under the plastic caps. We've moved into a different environment now, where bioterrorism is real. It happens. There's a lot actually around bioterrorism, but we're not here particularly to discuss that. But it is a massive part of the food safety systems that we all have to take into consideration now. So it's a big issue.
Closer to home, everyone – well, I shouldn't say everyone – but most New Zealanders who are involved in food, the melamine issue for Fonterra was significant. It had a lot… and it still… people still refer to that topic and that issue that occurred at that point in time. These, unfortunately, were all things with Fonterra. And when we have a company that is as sizable as Fonterra with the global reach, whenever we have issues in that company, it affects all of us. And so we have to just be really aware that the responsibility that sits on every company and every one of us is quite extensive.
So that brings me back to the question at hand. For me, in my horticulture experience, food safety is so broad, and society and the different people that are affected by it is equally as broad. So it's quite a challenging topic. We had a situation where a chemical company changed a recipe of one of the sprays that we used in our orchards, only about 3 years ago now.
And unfortunately, when people go to media, if they're not well versed and don't quite understand how they should be answering questions or thinking of the broader implications of their statements, it can be devastating. The chemical company who were taking a very responsible stance decided to get out there and take blame. And so yes, we've made a change, and it hasn't been great. And we've ended up with contaminated product.
The moment they said that, that just rippled across the globe. And no one wanted to purchase New Zealand apples or pears. All of our markets were ringing in left, right, and centre, saying, look, we're cancelling orders. There's nothing we want to be taking out of New Zealand this year.
The impact of that on us at that point in time could have been in excess of $500 million as an industry. So we had to jump on it very quickly and try and reverse any damage that had been done from those announcements. And no one's at fault. It is just that, as long as we haven't discussed where we were at and the cycle of issues, and we haven't got good systems in place to make sure that we're managing and dealing with all those situations, the impact can be considerable.
One of the other ones that probably has always resonated and sat with me for a long time – and to this day, I still shake my head when I think about it – I was offshore, in markets dealing with something. And I got a call from a staff member back here in New Zealand to say to me, “We have a container of fruit that's being declined for Taiwan, because the residues are too high. We've pulled that back, and we're just going to stick it on the domestic market.” And I was on the end of the phone, and I said, “Sorry? What was that?” And they said, “We're just going to put it on to the domestic market.”
And I said, “Do you just want to pause for a second there and think about what you've just said to me?” The staff member's like, “It's been declined for Taiwan. We've got no option. We're just going to stick it on the domestic market.” So I said, “So we're prepared to accept that Taiwan will not accept this container of fruit. If we had shipped the container, it would have another 4 weeks on the water. So the residue would continue to dissipate. But we will put that on the market in New Zealand tomorrow and sell it to our own consumers, including children, and that's OK?”
And I could just – there's deadly silence on the end of the phone. And the reality was that they just really hadn't thought that through. And their reaction response to me was, “But we can.” And that is correct. We could. We could. Our rules often, internationally, are far clearer, are far easier, to understand than they are for New Zealand. And just because we can doesn't mean we should. So clearly, that container did not go out to market.
But this is the problem. We've all got a responsibility. And sometimes, when systems are in place, and depending who is interpreting them, if they're not absolutely clear, then they'll just do whatever they need to do. Because they operate. It's how their brains are wired often to think, when they're on the sales and marketing area or logistics supply chain space. We have an issue. Let's deal with it.
So if we don't have some good, robust rules in place for our own domestic market, that can cause us problems, as well. And we don't. To be fair, in all the food products I deal in, our rules and regulations aren't quite as clear. And that's just because we are, whether we like it or not, heavily focused on international markets in New Zealand. Because of population demand is… we produce enough of 40 million or just over 40 million people now. 4 million people are never going to consume that.
So I think one thing for food safety and society – it doesn't matter who “society” is. Our job as food producers is to be the ones to take the responsibility to make sure it's right for everyone. It will always have a different meaning for people out there. It will always have a much stronger meaing usually for mothers of young children. Definitely, when I was a mother of young children, I had a slightly more caring thought about what I was putting in my children's mouths. Now that they're big, ugly 20-odd-year-olds, I don't really care. They should understand and know, because I've brought them up to understand that.
But yeah, even if you question general New Zealanders out on the street and said, do you understand where all of your produce comes from that you consume? What countries, whether we bring them into New Zealand, and we treat them with irradiation or any other thing, most people just don't think about it. They just assume that we're in New Zealand. It's nice and safe, and we in this room are doing everything that needs to be done to protect them. And largely, we often do.
But from a person like myself, who works with an international focus, sometimes you just – I assume those things are happening, because it's not my area of focus. So yeah, does trust in food safety systems mean the same for different areas of society? No, it definitely doesn't. But it should. And we should make sure it does. And I think, if we end up looking at the fact that we do have more areas now where people are trying to bioterrorist type things, that's something we're going to need to step up for even more so. Thank you.
[End of transcript]
Paul Dansted, Director Food Regulations, New Zealand Food Safety: Thank you, Bryan. I don't consider myself an expert, actually. The interesting thing is, the longer you spend in any particular area – and I've probably been about 20-odd years in food – is you realize how much you don't know. And there's so much I don't know.
So I'm going to be talking about food contamination. And I was interested to see, on Nadine's slide – she did that word cloud up front. Contamination was one of those words that really stood out. It's a great word. It's one of those ones that just triggers a response in people. There is no way you can use the word “contamination” in a good way.
And I'm going to talk a little bit about communication, risk perception, and so on, focusing on communication. So in approximate order, I'm going to be talking a little bit about food contamination. We've got largely a technical and industry audience, I'm probably not going to be telling you anything you don't know.
I want to talk a little bit about risk perception, which is something that's of interest to me. And Nadine referred to it obliquely a few times. And I think it's critical for all of us. I am going to circle back to the needles in strawberries incident, because I think that's a great case study for what we all have to deal with, and then finish off with a little bit of lessons learned.
So what is food contamination? Well, you guys will know this more than me, but in essence, it's anything that's in food that shouldn't ought to be there. We typically think about it in quite technical ways, like physical hazards. Glass is a common one. You often see recalls in the news about product that has broken glass in it or bits of metal. There are some interesting ones that don't make the news – spanners, bolts, other interesting things. I can see some smiles in the audience. I'm sure some of these have not hit the consumer.
Chemical is an obvious one, as well; pesticides, et cetera, but typically, cleaners, lubricants, et cetera. The one that we deal with most often, of course, is microbiological contamination. And this pretty much defines what we do in the food industry, is trying to keep bugs out of – either keep them out of food or manage it in some way.
Definition there from the Food Standards Code – but in essence, as I said before, it's anything that shouldn't be there.
So how does it happen? All sorts of ways. On farm, that can be either pesticides, bacterial contamination, fertilizers, you name it. During processing and storage, again, that can be foreign matter, microbiological contamination, fungi, et cetera. You can't see in that top left one, there is actually a hair there in that hamburger. And again, none of you will be responsible for any of that, but I'm sure you have measures in place to protect against that. What I haven't got there is pictures of bugs, because I can't find any that are big enough to show you.
So how do we manage it? Broadly, in 3 different ways. Now, you'll all be aware of HACCP – and I'm not going to go into that in great detail – but understanding, thinking through in a systematic way, what kind of hazards could be there in the food. So you'll all be au fait with HACCP. You may not be aware it was actually developed to support NASA's space programme, because they needed to be quite scientific about what kind of things could be in food. You really don't want gastro up there in a space shuttle going to the moon.
But in essence, this is just a systematic and scientific way of identifying what could be there, how you can control it, monitoring how you control it, and ensuring that that's operating as expected. What may not be as visible to you is that behind that broad brush strokes off of HACCP we have quite an extensive science program that we do ourselves, looking at how to control those hazards. It's not always that straightforward. It's easy to say – identify and manage the hazard – but sometimes, it requires quite a bit of science to find effective ways that work in a day-to-day basis.
Obviously, we set rules. That's a large part of what we do. So while every business may be operating to HACCP, sometimes we specify that in rules and say, in essence, you have to do X, Y, and Z. And those rules are there to manage contamination, either introduction of hazards or growth of hazards or some control of them throughout the chain.
One that's often forgotten, but it's actually really critical – you'll see this in our public campaign, the "Clean, Cook, Chill" campaign that we do every summer – this is consumer focused. But in essence, it's the same principles. And it's about behavior. It's about individuals who are dealing with food, whether they're in the kitchen or in business, identifying how they can ensure things are appropriately clean, hygienic, to avoid introduction or contamination; cooking it, which is of course that control point; and chilling it, which is another control point.
So who cares? Well, this guy. This guy obviously cares. Nadine talked about about 500 cases per day of foodborne illness. Now, New Zealand used to be described in international forums as the world campylobacter capital, which was not great. So that's about 10 years ago, so we can put that behind us to a certain degree. We still estimate, though, that we have about 200,000 cases per year.
I did a quick calculation while Nadine was talking. That's about 550 per day. So we're significantly better than we were in the early 2000s, the mid-2000s. So we reduced that foodborne campylobacteriosis by about 50%. And that's great. But we still think we've got a long way to go in that area.
We had an obvious target back a decade ago, and we are still looking at managing contamination in that particular sector. It's a much more complicated puzzle now but we still think we can do better.
But I want to go back to that question about who cares? And this touches on what Nadine was talking about, because – don't worry reading that, I'll explain to you what it means – different sections of society do look at risk quite differently. I'm just going to pop back there. So we think our rate of foodborne illness can improve. But we actually have a hard time getting people interested in that.
And as Nadine said, New Zealand consumers go into the supermarket, have a barbecue, do all sorts of amazing stuff in the kitchen, and get horribly sick sometimes. We don't think that's good enough. But people don't get too concerned about it, as Nadine said. Consumers will go and buy the food, will prepare it at home, will have a barbecue, will do all that stuff. How often are we really thinking about, am I going to be getting sick from this? Am I protecting my family, et cetera? We'd actually like to increase people's perception of risk a little bit there.
So what I'm talking about here, though, is some work done on risk perception. And this work, it's about 30 years old now. This is done by Paul Slovic, who kicked off quite a lot of this work. What this graph is showing is simply rated from top to bottom a range of 30 different technologies or risks. You won't be able to quite see it, but at the far left is nuclear power. You have private aviation, pesticides, construction, mountain biking, football, and vaccinations, interestingly, down to the right here.
Now, this audience here – it's a US study, so this audience was the US League of Women Voters – so it's a group of educated and very astute people, but not expert in the area of risk assessment or safety. So this is how they rated those risks from top to bottom. The highest risk they perceived as nuclear power. The lowest risk is vaccination. So 30 years later, it will be interesting to see what it looks like now with that audience. But anyway, that's at that time. That's how they rated it.
Now, if we overlay that with American college students, they've got a very different assessment of what those risks are. And some of the ones that really stand out for me are – what have we got there – we've got private aviation, swimming, cycling, and mountain climbing are all ranked quite slowly. So these American university students think they're pretty safe, actually.
You know what they do think is dangerous? Food preservatives – well, they're pretty dangerous, and contraception. So I don't know what's going through their minds, but I imagine that perception of risk is probably played out over the next few years. But it doesn't really matter what the risk is. The point I'm trying to make here is that they look at it quite differently.
And then, if you overlay the "expert" audience – and I talk about expert in inverted commas – and these are people who understand these risks and are operating within quite a formal risk assessment framework. But they rate them quite differently again. And the ones that really stand out for me – they're rating nuclear power quite low. So this is post-Chernobyl. This has changed things a little bit.
But the technical assessment of risk is still quite low. The technical assessment of mountain climbing and skiing is also quite low. But they're rating x-rays as really quite high, which is a bit counterintuitive. Again, how these are rated doesn't really matter. The point I'm trying to make is that they are different.
And there is not a right assessment of risk. Even these experts' assessment of risk is quite subjective. So while it's in a structured and technical way, and there is a lot of discipline to it, and it's the best way of assessing what the outcome is for the consumer in terms of illness or death, it is still operating within a theoretical framework that that expert is using, which is subjective.
If we pull those assessments of risk apart a little bit – and the ones I've highlighted here are x-rays and nuclear power, which is where the experts were quite different from the so-called lay audience – we can figure out that there are certain characteristics of that risk that drives the perception. So if you look at – this is x-rays in the heavy, in the solid line, and nuclear power on the dotted line – these components are what drive their perception of risk. And again, this work was done by Paul Slovic around about – oh, it's a bit earlier, actually.
And if we can identify the components of those risks, to a certain degree, we can predict how it's going to play out publicly. Is anyone here aware of Peter Sandman? I see a couple of nods. So Peter Sandman took this theoretical work done by Paul Slovic and has turned it into some rules of thumb for risk communication. And he's largely retired now, but he, for many years, was a guru for risk communication. And if you're interested in this, I suggest you have a look. Just Google Peter Sandman. He's quite an accessible communicator.
What he proposed is that risk in his term is actually a combination of what he calls hazard, which is that technical risk, the one that we would normally be using in our technical space, and what he calls outrage. And these outrage factors are factors such as: Is that risk something that is done to us? Is it industrial? Is it dreaded? Is it catastrophic? Is there a moral dimension to it? And is the process around it responsive or fair?
This is really important for us, because if we can identify these characteristics as something that is popping up in our business, to a certain degree, we can predict the public response to that. And I can assure you that these factors, these are a much better predictor of a public reaction to a risk than our technical assessment. We might think something is really dreadful. We might think 200,000 cases of foodborne illness is not good enough. Hmm, public's not too worried about it. But if there's something that triggers one of these, it'll be on the news.
So why does it matter to us? Particularly, why does it matter to us as a regulator? So we need to be using the right tool for the job. So as a regulator, our concern is protecting the consumer. What we're primarily interested in is reducing foodborne illness. But that's a technical risk.
Now, we have legal powers to do that. We can set legal standards that people must comply with. We can direct certain behaviours, we can require people to do certain things, and we can impose sanctions on those businesses who don't follow them. That's all to protect the consumer, from that technical perspective, and that's quite legitimate.
Of course, there are processes we need to follow through ourselves to make sure that that's done fairly and equitably. What we don't have, we do not have legal powers to manage that outrage. We can use communication tools, though.
So this brings us to needles in strawberries. So this was a great intersection between a technical risk – no one wants to be eating something with a needle in it. It could, theoretically, do quite a bit of damage to someone, particularly if swallowed. It could cause choking or significant damage internally.
But the thing that really got this going is this was an intersection between the technical hazard and those outrage components that I was just talking about. There was an aspect of it just shouldn't ought to be this way. That's the feedback. That's the kind of sense we got from media interest and consumers.
So what happened? So you may well be aware. Ninth of September last year, there were some cases reported in – I think it was Western Australia, initially, of needles being found in strawberries. It's actually quite widespread media interest in Australia. But it wasn't until 2 weeks later, when we had found the first… we had the first report in New Zealand. So that's exactly a year ago today. We had the first case reported in New Zealand. And it was actually reported through the media. It didn't come to us directly.
And what we had reported to us was that some imported strawberries from Australia had a needle found on them. Very quickly, we had a whole lot more reports coming in. These actually weren't real cases of needles in strawberries. But it didn't matter. The fact that we got a number of reports very quickly really stood out for us.
So just to give you a bit of context, we get around 500 reports to us of what we call food complaints. So these are people just saying, there's something in my food, there's something not right with my food. That comes into our compliance team. About 90 of those are related to what we call foreign matter, which could be anything from needles through to bits of glass, bits of plastic. Or it could just be, this food smells off. There's something not quite right with it.
Over the last 5 years, about 13 of those – so that's, on average, just under 3 a year – were needles. So it's not uncommon that we get stuff found in food. But this was different.
So in terms of the actual incident and what was going on who would do this kind of thing? What it turned out to be in Australia was a disgruntled employee. And we do have those in New Zealand, too – not in this audience, I'm sure. We had an employee in Australia who wanted to get back at their employer. So she was sticking needles in strawberries and making a bit of a deal about it. And it certainly caused havoc, as you know.
Once it hits the media, though, we get people starting to get on the bandwagon thing – that's kind of cool, let's have a go, let's do that ourselves. And unfortunately, it then spirals from there. What they found in Australia is that quite often, it was kids. Kids around the age of 12 or 13 were the copycats. They saw it on the news, didn't really think through the consequences, but thought it would be quite fun doing that, as well.
So here, in terms of talking about what we did – I'm focusing on the technical management of that risk – we must put the consumer first in everything we do. So whenever we had these reports coming in, we had to follow every one of them up. Very quickly, this was not just about strawberries – the first ones popped up, there were reports of needles in strawberries, very quickly it became a whole lot of other foods.
And so it wasn't just about strawberries. It wasn't just about needles. And the reports didn't come in through formal channels. They sometimes came in through social media. They were sometimes quite spurious. And some of them were obviously people trying to be funny. We had some pictures posted on social media of, I don't know – I think it was one of an apple with a big nail stuck outside, like a six-inch nail, and someone claiming on social media, “I found one.”
What's the real pain in the proverbial is that we actually need to follow up every one of those. And that's between us and the police. So you can imagine there's quite a bit of effort you need to put into that.
As I'm saying here, tampering – so this departs a bit from the normal food safety incidents we're dealing with. This is a criminal matter. So obviously, we're working closely with police on this one. Our efforts here were identifying what's going on, working with supermarkets, industry, et cetera, to recall product, if needs be. Typically, we found these incidents to be one-off. They were isolated.
Quite often, they happened in the home. We have some funny cases where, without releasing too many details, people find a needle in a bit of fruit at home, and you find that it's somehow associated with a sewing kit they have in the home. And there's, not surprisingly, a needle gone missing. It actually didn't matter, because we need to follow up every one of these.
Of course, we had to work with the industry, as well. We weren't operating as a regulator in these contexts. Quite a bit of what we did here was simply getting groups of the affected sector together and then simply provide them information about what we knew what was going on, what was coming next, advising on the kind of communications that we were going to be putting out, advising on what kind of communication they could be putting out, and helping them coordinate themselves.
Because across our horticultural sector, there are a lot of different groups. There isn't a single body. So part of what we were doing – I'm seeing a smile from Nadine there – part of what we were doing was simply bringing these people together and helping get them on the same page.
Some of the measures we advised, given that we saw what was happening was often a copycat type activity, potentially happening in supermarkets or at home, was simply a little bit of visibility, and to kids, for example, going through supermarkets, that you're actually being watched. We are looking. We are looking at how food is being treated in supermarkets, so don't think you're going to get away with this.
Not surprisingly, in retrospect, there was a lot of media. It didn't really kick off until we got that report in New Zealand. To a certain degree, we were looking across at Australia, thinking, well, it's happening over there. It's not our problem. Once we got a report in New Zealand, even though it turned out to be a false alarm, it all flared up. So we ended up with 27 media inquiries in just those 3 days. And that was radio, TV, print, online. So it was important for us to give consistent messaging, but also to let our stakeholders know what that messaging was.
And you can see the quite dramatic illustrations that were playing out quite nicely in the media. I feel sorry for that guy. I did two interviews before 7.30 one morning. And they put makeup on you, which I don't feel that comfortable with. So this is about the reactive media we do. And we do this quite regularly.
But actually, the media can be our friend here, as well. And this is where I want to come back to some of those drivers of risk perception. Because many of the things that were making this incident hit the fan was the unfairness of the situation and the fact that people thought there is a morally relevant thing going on here. Someone is doing something that they shouldn't ought to be doing, and it's unfair, and it shouldn't be that way. And that's why people get pissed off. And that's why their assessment of the risk actually elevates really significantly.
The thing is, you can do stuff about that, if you're aware of that. If you're aware of what's driving the outrage, you can address that. And as I said before, this is not a regulatory matter. It's a communications one. So what we did, in our communications, we put a lot of effort into communicating how people could take the power into their own hands. So if people are in control of a risk, their tolerance of it is very significantly higher. And there's good evidence that shows how that works.
Similarly, if people are informed of what's going on, if they know what's happening, if it becomes familiar, again, the tolerance of that risk is higher. So we were offering people solutions such as cut up your strawberries. Talk to your retailer.
Consumers know what food products look like. This is a file photo we have here. This is not someone looking for needles in strawberries. But this is pretty typical consumer behaviour and I'm sure you all see it. People pick up a packet. They have a look at it. If there's anything out of the ordinary, they'll put it back again. Well, that's a great opportunity to look at it and think, I'm not happy with this. Does it look like it's been tampered with? Go and talk to a retailer or to us.
What we're really doing here is putting the power back in the consumer's hands. They actually have a lot of power. They don't necessarily realize it. What we're doing here is addressing the outrage, not that technical risk.
So in terms of what we get from this, we had a good working relationship with the police already. We had the misfortune of going through the 1080 blackmail incident just a little bit before that. So we'd established good relationships with the police for this kind of thing. So when it popped up in New Zealand, we were very quickly able to set those up again.
We had good ways of working with the industry. We were able to emphasise the criminal aspect of this matter. So it's not just a general food safety thing, it was something that the police were taking quite seriously. And you may be aware that they prosecuted someone, convicted someone, in fact, for making a false claim. So emphasising that serious criminal aspect of it helped us frame it better.
And we were able t