Only hours after the Ministry of Primary industry got criticised at a Select Committee for a slow response to the frozen berries which allegedly caused four cases of Hepatitis A, the Ministry last night announced it was recalling Fruzio Mixed Berries sold in 1kg and 500 gram bags.
“This product contains blackberries and strawberries,’ the Ministry’s statement said.
“Our investigation is ongoing and, at this stage, our advice concerning all imported frozen berries stays the same. We are not able to rule out further recalls.
“This is an evolving and complex situation and we were able to reach this conclusion today because of new genetic evidence about the virus and a continuing examination of the supply chain.
Nevertheless the Ministry found itself on the back foot in responding to questions about the Hepatitis cases and also its response to the animal cruelty revealed last Sunday’s programme about bobby calves on TVOne.
But problems with running New Zealand’s border protection generally came under scrutiny at two separate Select Committees at Parliament yesterday.
And tough questioning by both National and Labour MPs of Ministry of Primary Industry Director General, Martyn Dunne, raised questions about whether it isn’t too slow to respond to crises like the berries and the calves.
Meanwhile Customs Comptroller Carolyn Tremain found herself back at Parliament for the second time this year defending her department’s cost over runs and failure to meet deadlines on its new Joint Border Management System.
And this time she also had to answer questions about what appears to be low morale in the department and a lack of faith by staff in its leadership.
Unfortunately Customs’ partner in that system is the Ministry of Primary Industries. (MPI).
Mr Dunne and Labour’s Damien O’Connor clashed over the a comparison with Australia which had dealt with a similar Hepatitis A outbreak earlier this year that led them to immediately begin testing of several brands of frozen berries.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand is responsible for joint food standards which include food safety in both Australia and New Zealand.
Mr O’Connor said that when the standard was introduced New Zealanders worried they were in danger of being bullied by the Australians
In fact he said, it now appeared we had a lesser standard.
Mr Dunne replied: “So what are you talking about now – country of origin labelling?”
Mr O’Connor: “No, I’m talking about testing of berries which they implemented nine months ago and you didn’t.”
Mr Dunne: “There was no cause for us to do that if you’d heard what Scott (an MPI deputy Director General) said.”
Deputy Director General (regulation and Assurance) Scott Gallacher said the Ministry unlike Australia with its outbreak was not in a position yet to narrow the warning it has issued down to a single country.
Mr O’Connor was joined in the questioning by his colleague, Stuart Nash (Labour, Napier)
Mr Dunne said singling out a country now would be unfair on that exporting country.
Mr Nash: “Why?”
Mr Dunne: “Because we are not sure of the information.”
Mr Nash: “So you are not sure — so make a decision. Cut it off. If this was our apples into Australia they would say no more.
Mr Dunne: “Well, I’m sorry ….
Mr Nash: “Why, this is about the health and safety of Kiwis.”
Then followed a series of questions on other less controversial matters until National MP Chester Borrows raised questions about the “Sunday” programme showing bobby calves being abused by a transport operator and then at an abattoir.
Mr Borrows (who is a former police officer and has a law degree) said it was obvious there was criminal behaviour and the proof was self-evident in the video. “It would have been a lot more helpful to come out and say this is obviously criminal behaviour and we are making a complaint to the police,” he said.
“Unfortunately the first response from most groups was that this was a small number of farmers and we don’t think all farmers treat their animals like that.
“This was criminal behaviour.”
Mr Dunne said there were issues around the footage but he wouldn’t specific what they were because “the last thing we need is to ruin the pathway to prosecution.”
Mr Dunne said that by Friday we would see nationally – “and potentially internationally” a major campaign from all stakeholders and the MPI to “correct some of the language that’s been out there.
“It will be quite concentrated and very focussed,” he said.
Mr O’Connor: “So you are saying it’s a campaign to change the language. You are saying it will be a PR campaign to try and shift the focus when the questions are actually around the incident and potentially whether there will be a prosecution.”
Mr Dunne: “There will be both.”
Across the corridor the Foreign Affairs Committee was once again questioning Customs about its over budget and delated new IT system, the Joint Border management Systems project.
This had featured in a lengthy session in the same committee only three months ago.
But earlier in the week Treasury released its review of major Government projects in which it offered a more positive view of the Customs system.
“There is continuing evidence of strong commercial management from Customs, commitment by Customs/MPI executives to mitigate schedule risk, and the closure of key capability gaps. “
Some hint of what had gone before came with the revelation by the Comptroller of Customs that she had been meeting the supplier, IBM, once a week to deal with problems in the implementation but now that meeting was chaired by an external consultant.”
However there were questions raised at the committee about morale and staffing within Customs.
Labour’s Phil Goff said internal surveys showed that staff resignations had gone from 4.4% in 2010 to 7.8% and staff “engagement” was at 60%, below the state sector benchmark figure of 68.4%.
He said this suggested staff morale had fallen.
Ms Tremain said the turnover was concentrated at Auckland Christchurch airports and exit interviews showed that remuneration was the major issue.