MP’s baby food safety claims couldn’t be further from truth

2 July 2015

An MP's claims that the testing of baby foods in New Zealand was ‘at best, inadequate and, at worst, a sham’, couldn’t be further from the truth, says FGC Chief Executive Katherine Rich.

She was commenting on a statement issued by Green MP Steffan Browning, the Green Party spokesman for food safety on a report by the Primary Production Select Committee into allegations that New Zealand baby food contained nearly 800 times more pesticides than baby food in Europe. As expected, the committee found the allegations did not stack up.

Mrs Rich says Mr Browning’s statement that most parents ‘would be alarmed by any, let alone high levels of pesticide residues being found in their baby’s food’ preyed upon parents’ natural fear for their children and was “an unfair and despicable thing to do.”

Mr Browning also accused the Government and MPI of having a ‘laissez-faire approach to children’s health and safety’. 

Mrs Rich said that having worked closely with governments of various political persuasions and departments over the years “I can say with absolute confidence that MPI’s collective approach to food safety is the complete opposite.”

Mrs Rich made the comments in an article written for FMCG Business magazine. The full text is here:

It’s always disappointing when activists use our natural parental fear for our children as a pawn for political points-scoring. It’s an unfair and despicable thing to do. 

The threat earlier this year to contaminate New Zealand’s baby formula supply is a perfect example of this. It was designed to gain publicity for an ideological stance against the poisoning of possums.

The anonymous threat was cowardly, and thankfully nothing has come of it. But the fact that baby food was the blackmail tool was both dangerous and upsetting for parents. It was roundly condemned by all without hesitation and, like most people, I assumed that meant everyone also agreed that children and mothers were off limits when it also came to politics. 

But in May, just 12 weeks after the threats against baby formula, it was disappointing to see an MP issuing a media statement attempting to press the parental fear button once again.

The statement, entitled ‘Government won’t act to protect kids from pesticide residues’, commented on a report by the Primary Production Select Committee into allegations that New Zealand baby food contained nearly 800 times more pesticides than baby food in Europe. This, of course, is complete rubbish but that didn’t stop a number of media outlets repeating the claim.

The statement said most parents “would be alarmed by any, let alone high levels of pesticide residues being found in their baby’s food”, and accused the Government and MPI of having a “laissez-faire approach to children’s health and safety”.  Having worked closely with governments of various political persuasions and departments over the years I can say with absolute confidence that MPI’s collective approach to food safety is the complete opposite.

The statement went on to make a claim that couldn’t be more wrong – that the testing of baby foods in New Zealand was “at best, inadequate and, at worst, a sham”, and there should be annual tests “to provide peace of mind” for parents. 

Seriously, false claims like these are the worst kind of irresponsible scaremongering.  Emotive language and big claims that regulatory change was needed before parents could feed their babies with any confidence was just unhelpful nonsense.

Why? For a start, the use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, and veterinary medicines in New Zealand food is strictly regulated, and all locally produced food must comply with strict standards that stipulate allowable residue levels. Producers and manufacturers stick to those standards without question, and this is why New Zealand maintains a reputation  around the world of being a producer of high-quality, safe food.

Also, our agreement with the European Union says our exports must meet the same requirements as their products, so it’s simply impossible that pesticide levels in our baby food are 800 times higher than theirs. In fact, any residues from agricultural compounds are at levels known as ‘notional zero risk’ to consumers.

New Zealand baby food is among the best and safest anywhere, and it is grossly unfair for mothers and children who rely on it to be subjected to totally unnecessary upset just so one MP can score some cheap points.

Read Steffan Browning’s statement here.

Read the report of the Primary Production Committee here.