Gamekeeper McKenzie turns Poacher

Andrew McKenzie retires this week as Chief Executive of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority at the same time as his ‘baby’ is reabsorbed into MAF. This is an important coincidence because, under McKenzie’s direction, food safety compliance in New Zealand is light years ahead of where it was even 10 years ago.

There is a risk his retirement and the amalgamation of NZFSA with MAF will see a return to the silo structure of the parent. Murray Sherwin, Director General of MAF, who had an uneasy relationship with McKenzie in the early days of NZFSA told me the activity will continue to maintain its efficiency, outcome and client focus under the new structure. However he retires in mid November, so it will be up to his new, as yet un-named successor to determine its success or otherwise. He confirmed the huge contribution McKenzie has made, saying NZFSA was ‘very much Andrew’s product’.

This opinion was echoed strongly by all the meat company executives spoken to who are, not unnaturally, concerned the new structure may lose some of its outcome. I understand the MIA is in close contact with senior MAF management to communicate the meat industry’s keen desire for NZFSA’s operating philosophy to continue.

MIA has agreed a contract with McKenzie on a trial basis to continue the momentum in areas of regulatory interest to the meat industry. As he said “it’s a bit like the gamekeeper turning poacher!” He may also continue to represent NZ on specific international committees related to meat hygiene and animal production food safety.

Farmers will no doubt be asking what on earth this has all got to do with the business of farming and why they should worry about the retirement of the chief executive of the country’s food safety agency. The answer is pretty simple – Andrew McKenzie was almost exclusively behind the negotiation of an equivalency deal with both US and EU regulatory authorities which saved the meat industry from having to comply with hundreds of food inspection requirements for market access to our major quota markets. Because of the expansion of the EU since the deal was agreed and acceptance of EU standards by non-members like Switzerland and Norway, this has had a side effect of expanding the coverage of the deal in Europe immensely.

One example of his approach is the removal of the EU’s demand for sheep head skinning and inspection which he was convinced was not technically justified to make dispositions on carcases and the offals. He persuaded the meat industry to run a one day (around 325.000 animals) trial across the country aimed at persuading the EU to accept this position. As a result every company was able to lay off one meat inspector across 110 lamb chains with the resulting cost saving to the industry. This led to further work focusing on all aspects of meat inspection to remove unnecessary requirements.

Another example of successful intervention was when the USA began requiring shipments of beef to be to be checked at the border for E Coli 0157H7 with the risk of tracking and condemning all associated product in the case of a positive result. Meat exporters were unwilling to take the risk of shipping under these circumstances and exports to the US ground to a halt. Andrew McKenzie and Tony Zohrab negotiated favourable conditions for testing and verification in New Zealand which got the trade moving again at minimal cost.

These examples illustrate the importance of his personal relationships with overseas regulators, combined with a solid foundation of logic and an insistence on questioning the status quo, when compliance requests didn’t make sense. Co-operation with the meat industry has worked well with the parties forming a joint steering group and the Meat Hygiene Taskforce to ensure they move forward in tandem, but with the industry increasingly taking control of its destiny.

Meat company executives are united in their respect for what McKenzie has achieved for the industry and New Zealand Inc in his career which began in 1971 as a vet at AFFCO Southdown. Greg Roberts of Auckland Meat Processors describes him as an unsung hero who created a government department way ahead of any other; Grant Cuff, CEO of Alliance, says he has taken the meat industry from a defect spotting to a science based approach; and ANZCO chairman Graeme Harrison says he leaves with ANZCO’s total respect. This is absolutely justified praise from people whose businesses have benefited from his input over the years.

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One Response to “Gamekeeper McKenzie turns Poacher”

  1. Does iBooks for iPad have any of these books? Says:

    […] Gamekeeper McKenzie turns Poacher « Barber’s Meaty Issues […]

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