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Interview: New Zealand farmers head aims to improve links with China


Interview: New Zealand farmers head aims to improve links with China

WELLINGTON, July 15 (Xinhua) -- The new head of New Zealand's largest farming body said he's hoping to strengthen exchanges and contacts with China as he aims to improve perceptions about New Zealand's agricultural produce.

The country's agricultural exporters are recovering from 18 months of bad news, including the revelations of DCD pasture chemical in milk, Fonterra's false botulism scare and the bungling of export documents none of which were actual public health issues, Federated Farmers president Dr William Rolleston told Xinhua.

Rolleston, who was elected to the post earlier this month, is a qualified medical doctor as well as a farmer, and he said he hoped to bring a more scientific approach to the issues facing New Zealand's biggest export sector and the pillar industry of the national economy.

"None of these problems have been public health issues. We have to get that message out there: that our products are safe because we asked the extra questions, Fonterra asked the extra questions and put its hand up when it saw a potential problem," Rolleston said, referring to the global recall of whey protein concentrate and associated products during the false botulism scare in August last year.

While the problem was not directly attributable to farmers, Fonterra, a New Zealand farmer-owned cooperative and the world's biggest dairy exporter, had moved swiftly to withdraw suspect products from the market despite the enormous risk to its reputation, Rolleston said in a phone interview Tuesday.

He accepted that the image of New Zealand's agricultural produce had been dented abroad, particularly in its biggest market, China, and he had a message for Chinese consumers: "We care about our products and we care about our customers, and we're proud of the fact that we maintain high standards and that we will act to protect them."

Rolleston said he would be looking to develop more exchanges with Chinese counterparts to share expertise and with officials to improve understanding.

Federated Farmers was also aiming to work with the country's Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to resolve trade issues, particularly over China's continued ban on whey protein concentrate and export documentation problems that have seen New Zealand meat sitting on Chinese wharves.

"Trade with China has grown so much in the years since the free trade agreement (signed in 2008) and MPI has seen its workload grow massively so you would expect a few glitches. But they'll work through them and we'll see improvements."

He also wants to see debate around New Zealand's farming industry become more science-based, with a focus on evidence to counter "emotive" statements about issues such as water quality in rivers and lakes, which in some areas has been affected by dairy farming intensification.

"There is a lot of work being done to improve water quality and the fact is that water quality in most waterways is very high and has either improved or at least got no worse in recent years," he said.

"Our message to people who would want to undermine New Zealand' s farming sector by exploiting this issue is to put up the evidence or shut up."