New food safety guidance announced

The Ministry for Primary Industries today announced food safety guidance which will cover up to 16,000 food businesses across New Zealand.

This means that all types of food businesses in New Zealand now have easy-to-follow guidance for keeping food safe. Different types of businesses have different guidance depending on the food safety risk of the food they handle.

The new national programme guidance covers businesses with medium- to low-risk food safety issues. Because of the lower risk, the compliance costs are also less than for businesses with more complex food safety risks.

“In 2016, 60% of reported cases where food made people sick, came from commercial food operators,” MPI Director Peter Thomson says.

“These guides help a wide range of food businesses from dairies to juice and confectionery manufacturers to keep their food safe for consumers. The numbers of Kiwis getting sick from food-related bugs needs to come down. We also need to protect groups like small children, the frail elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.

“While food poisoning for a normal healthy person can be a short-lived upset stomach, the recent case of suspected botulism in the Waikato, or the campylobacter in the Havelock North drinking water, show how harmful bugs can have severe consequences.”

A consistent set of rules targeting top food-safety problems that are flexible and easy for businesses to apply are the best way to ensure Kiwis safely enjoy the country’s great food culture, Peter Thomson says.


Gauging what must be done to make US beef production environmentally sustainable

Americans would have to halve the amount of beef they eat each week to make the American beef industry environmentally sustainable, according to a team of researchers.

The authors have designed a model for sustainable production where cattle are raised only on grass, hay and food industry by-products. This would free up 32 million hectares of cropland currently used to grow food for cows that could be used to grow crops for humans.

They say their model would reduce the amount of fertiliser and water needed, as well as reducing greenhouse emissions. However, their model produces just under half of the beef the US currently does.

A media release from Springer Nature says a model for the more sustainable supply of up to 45% of current US beef consumption is presented in a paper published online in Nature Ecology & Evolution. (see HERE).

The US beef industry is often cited as a major greenhouse gas contributor, not only from the cattle themselves, but also from the fodder grown to feed them.

Gidon Eshel, Ron Milo and colleagues have defined sustainable beef production as cattle that are raised on grassland (pasture and small amounts of locally baled hay) and food industry by-products, such as distillers’ grains or sugar-beet pulp.

The authors’ model finds that, using this definition of sustainable beef production, an estimated 32 million hectares of cropland currently used to grow fodder could be reallocated for plant-based food production.

The authors suggest  this reallocation would also dramatically reduce nitrogen fertilizer and irrigation water use while substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They find combining the change in land use with pasturing could lead to 45% of current beef production being sustainable.

In addition, they find that halving the size of existing pastureland used (to about 135 million ha), by abandoning less productive grasslands, can still sustainably deliver 43% of current production.

Finally, they show that a reduction in beef consumption from the current level of about 460 g per person per week to about 200 g per person per week could make the entire US beef industry environmentally sustainable (by the narrow definition of the paper).

The authors emphasise that this is just one possible model and definition of sustainability, and caution that any model must maintain protein needs.

Due to the very low feed-to-food protein conversion efficiency of beef, however, reallocating feed land to all considered plant alternatives at least maintains protein supply, and reallocation to such protein-rich plants as soybean, for example, increases protein production from the land five-fold.

Ministry officials disappointed by discovery of myrtle rust in the Wellington region

The fungal plant disease myrtle rust has been found in Lower Hutt, north of Wellington.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says its laboratory has confirmed positive infection in three ramarama (Lophmyrtus bullata) plants in a Hutt Valley garden.

The two-metre-high plants are in a row and are heavily infected, says the myrtle rust response incident controller Catherine Duthie.

Myrtle rust is a fungus that attacks – and can potentially seriously affect – myrtle species plants, including natives such as pōhutukawa, ramarama, mānuka and rātā.

“This new find, significantly further south of other known infection in the upper North Island, is very disappointing,” Dr Duthie says.

As with other positive finds, the trees are having their foliage sealed to prevent spore drift and are then being removed and deep buried.

“All efforts to date have been to contain infection where it is found. However, we have been planning for the possibility that it turns out to be widespread and are realistic that it won’t be feasible to keep removing all infected trees found long term.

“This new find will see us review our tactics and could signal a move to a longer-term approach to managing it in partnership with others, including local authorities, iwi and hapū, plant production industry, and interested individuals and groups.

“We’ll be keeping people informed about any decisions and will provide the most up-to-date information about best practice in fighting this disease,” Dr Duthie says.

In the meantime, the ministry is encouraging people to keep an eye out for the disease in myrtle species.

“So far ramarama and pōhutukawa are the species we’re finding most affected and these are the ones to look at carefully.

Anyone  who believes they have seen the distinctive yellow fungus are advised not to touch the plant or the rust, because this may spread it. If possible, they should try to get a good photo of the plant and the yellow patches and contact the ministry on 0800 80 99 66.

EPA report says NZ has its share of science deniers

The global phenomenon of science denial and scepticism about the role of experts is alive and well in New Zealand, the Environmental Protection Authority says in its 2016/17 annual report.

Opposition to bureaucracy and scepticism about scientific endeavour and the role of experts are highlighted in the report as key pressures facing environmental regulators around the world.

“New Zealand has its share of science deniers whose opinions are reinforced and nurtured in the unmoderated milieu of the internet,” says the report.

“Protecting the environment does not mean building a wall around it or immunising it from change.

“Environments are dynamic, always evolving, and the threats to them are ever-changing. We must find a balance among competing pressures in the search for a better New Zealand.

“Our decisions matter. Though they do not always meet with universal favour, our role is to work within the law and make decisions based on facts, data and science, using the expertise of our high-skilled scientific and technical staff.”

The report covers a range of activities, including:

– The reclassification of 200 hazardous substances as part of an ongoing review of New Zealand’s chemical landscape to ensure risks to people and the environment are adequately managed

– Helping kiwi families stay safe around household chemical products through a public information campaign and Facebook page that had 93,000 hits in its first year

– Working alongside Australian regulators to promote coherent regulatory practice and policy, and prioritising the formulation of consistent regulation across both countries

– Development of a Red Alert system to raise public awareness about the dangers of certain chemicals

– A nationwide series of territorial authority workshops addressing system-wide approaches to managing hazardous substances to protect local environments and communities

– Strengthening scientific leadership through the appointment of a chief scientist

– Supporting New Zealand’s obligations under international treaties and agreements, for example the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

– Providing logistical support to the decision-making process for Trans-Tasman Resources marine consent and marine discharge applications and two Proposals of National Significance – Auckland’s Northern Corridor and East West Link.

EPA chief executive Allan Freeth said 2016/2017 had been a year of executing the agency’s vision to be a proactive regulator, to anticipate and lead change.

Ministry for Primary Industries reports second myrtle rust find in Auckland

A second location of myrtle rust infection has been found in Auckland – this time in the city, on ramarama plants at a private property in St Lukes.

Myrtle rust is a fungus that attacks and can potentially seriously affect myrtle species plants including some significant natives such as pōhutukawa, ramarama, mānuka and rātā.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says so far it appears ramarama and pōhutukawa are the most susceptible species in New Zealand.

Myrtle rust response controller Dr Catherine Duthie says of the 136 locations now known to be infected, 90% involve infection in ramarama or pōhutukawa plants.

“As with all our previous detections, we’ve placed movement controls on the new property to stop any myrtle plant material being moved off site.
“Our team on the ground will shortly remove all affected plants to contain any risk of spread.”

Dr Duthie says it’s vital that the team knows just how well-established myrtle rust is in the Auckland region to help determine what is feasible in terms of future control.

“Auckland is a big place and we can’t check everywhere. We encourage all Aucklanders to look particularly at ramarama and pōhutukawa plants in their gardens and public areas and report any signs of the distinctive yellow fungus to MPI on 0800 80 99 66.

“It’s important you don’t touch the plant or the rust, as this may spread it. If possible get a good photo of the plant and the yellow patches, and contact us. We’ll look after it from there.

“If you believe you’ve found it, don’t touch the plant or the rust, as this may spread it.”

Dr Duthie says finding another infection in Auckland so soon after last week’s detection is disappointing but also expected.

“While myrtle rust has been relatively dormant over the winter months we have been expecting new infections to be identified as the weather warms up and the fungus begins to release spores again.

“We are now considering what this new find means to the future management of the fungus. It may well mean that we have to review our tactics and prepare for a longer term approach to managing it in partnership with others including local authorities, iwi, plant production industry and interested individuals.

“We’ll be keeping people informed about any decisions and will provide the most up to date information about best practice in fighting this disease,” Dr Duthie says.

Myrtle rust has previously been found in Taranaki, Te Puke, Waikato and Northland, and just last week, in Auckland for the first time.

New research findings to feature at Ecotain industry event

Scientists and industry experts this week will discuss the latest research findings about Ecotain, a plantain cultivar that research has found acts environmentally to significantly reduce nitrogen leaching.

The event takes place at Marshdale Farm in Oxford, Canterbury on Thursday.

Representatives from Agricom, Lincoln and Massey universities, and Plant & Food Research will discuss new research findings and practical applications of Ecotain on farm.

The event is a forum for rural consultants, retailers and industry to discuss the complexities of nitrate leaching and the solutions available to farmers.

In September this year, proprietary seed company Agricom announced research findings that showed Ecotain can significantly reduce nitrogen leaching from urine patches on livestock farms. Most nitrogen leaching from livestock farms comes from the urine patch, an area containing high concentrations of nitrogen from cows’ urine.

Agricom has been working with researchers at Lincoln and Massey universities and Plant & Food Research to discover how Ecotain can function in pasture systems to reduce nitrogen leaching.

Their research found that Ecotain reduces nitrogen leaching from the urine patch in four ways: it increases the volume of cows’ urine which dilutes the concentration of nitrogen; it reduces the total amount of nitrogen in animals’ urine; it delays the process of turning ammonium into nitrate in the urine patch; and it restricts the accumulation of nitrate in soils growing Ecotain.

In Agricom’s nitrogen management system NSentinel 4, these four mechanisms of activity are referred to as dilute, reduce, delay, restrict.

New research findings from Massey University now put a minimum reduction rate of nitrate leaching from the urine patch at 30 per cent from pastures containing Ecotain.

Massey University’s Professor Peter Kemp will present his team’s preliminary research findings on the farm-scale impact of Ecotain. He says their findings so far show a reduction in nitrogen “hitting the ground” of at least 30 per cent.

Professor Kemp and a team of researchers are in the middle of a two-year trial measuring the nitrate reducing capabilities of Ecotain on dairy cows at the No 4 dairy farm in Palmerston North. Cows are grazing three paddock types: ryegrass/clover, Ecotain/clover, and Ecotain. The paddocks are hydrologically isolated, where drainage from each paddock is collected and analysed for its reduction in nitrate levels.

“The 30 per cent figure is a minimum reduction achieved from the dilution of nitrogen in the urine, where the bioactive compounds in Ecotain are such that they create a diuretic effect in livestock,” says Professor Kemp.

“If you were to add to that scenario the additional nitrogen-reducing capabilities of Ecotain, you would likely get an increased reduction in nitrate leaching. Some of the lysimeter studies from Lincoln University have shown a reduction in leaching from the urine patch by as much as 89 per cent.

“For now, I’m very comfortable saying that Ecotain facilitates a reduction of nitrate leaching from the urine patch of at least 30 per cent.”

Agricom science lead Dr Glenn Judson says collaboration has been an important aspect of the development of Ecotain, and the event on 30 November will allow members of industry to hear about the collaborative research behind Ecotain, see its practical applications at work, and ask questions.

The event will also include presentations on the historical use of plantain in New Zealand, the botanical influences on pasture ecosystems, a practical demonstration of harvesting Ecotain and its establishment methods on farm.

In the weeks following the event, farmers will be able to discuss Ecotain with industry and retailers and find out how they can incorporate it on farm. Ecotain is available in February 2018.

Lincoln Hub to host Feeding the World 2030 Hackathon

How we can innovate to create New Zealand’s future agricultural and food industries and whether plant-based protein solutions are part of the answer will be explored at a Power of Plants Hackathon hosted by Lincoln Hub in Lincoln on December 2-3.

Several teams, made up of participants from different disciplines, will be united to shape the future of what we eat and what we grow. Ideas will be hatched and developed and the solutions pitched.

Ideas will be presented to a panel of judges at 4.30pm on December 3.

The teams will be presented with the challenge:

Food presents some of the most dauntingly complex problems around. No good solution can be designed without a careful understanding of the users and interconnected environmental, farming, processing and supply systems.

From pea and insect proteins to synthetic milks and alternative “meats,” the food technology revolution is well under way.

Is New Zealand ready to take part in this food movement? How can we sustainably feed our planet’s rapidly-growing population (8.5 billion by 2030)?

Lincoln Hub, lead sponsor at the Hackathon, has teamed up with FAR, Agmardt, Callaghan Innovation, Plant and Food Research and Lincoln University with Creative HQ our lead innovation facilitators.

More information can be found at the Feed the World 2030: Power of Plants Hackathon page on the Creative HQ website.