The sale and use of dicyandiamide (DCD) has been brought to a halt in New Zealand after low levels of the substance were discovered in samples of dairy products from the country.
New Zealand’s two biggest fertiliser companies - Ravensdown and Ballance Agri-Nutrients - have suspended sales of DCD after residues of the compound were found in some September 2012-manufactured Kiwi dairy products.
DCD is applied to pasture by farmers to prevent nitrate – a potentially harmful fertiliser by-product – seeping into rivers and lakes.
DCD has never been considered to be a food safety risk – even at high doses – and there is no international standard for DCD in food. International regulators and customer could, however, consider any DCD residue a contaminant.
This has led to concerns that dairy products originating from New Zealand could be excluded from international markets.
Managing potential trade concerns
The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has applauded the manufacturers’ decision to suspend sales, but expressed concern about the potential damage to the “quality” reputation of the country’s dairy industry.
“Because no standard exists, the detectable presence of DCD residues in milk could be unacceptable to consumers and our international markets, even in the small amounts found in recent testing,” said MPI deputy director general of standards, Carol Barnao.
“Food regulators around the world are reflecting market demands with increasingly rigorous testing and in some countries there is a zero tolerance to detected residues outside agreed standards,”
“New Zealand’s reputation is based on the high quality of food we produce, so MPI is working across the board with primary producers to manage potential concerns for our markets and consumers.”
In addition, the MPI has established a working group to assess the future use of DCD “that meets trade requirements.”
“Responsible approach” to findings
Fonterra – New Zealand’s largest dairy exporter – has also praised the “responsible approach” taken by the manufacturers.
“We have been assured by New Zealand’s regulatory authority – the Ministry for Primary Industries – that there is no food safety risk. However, DCD residues in agricultural products may present a future trade issue,” said managing director of co-operative affairs at Fonterra, Todd Muller.
“Although DCD was a promising option for reducing nitrate leaching, it is critical that New Zealand’s trade reputation is preserved. The voluntary suspension is the responsible approach in the absence of any internationally agreed standards for DCD residues in foods,” said Muller.