By Terry Tacon
Farmers have been advised to stop using a popular stock food because of the risk it may contain cancer-causing contaminants.
Fonterra this week ordered dairy farmers throughout the country to stop feeding the stock food copra to lactating cows on advice from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.
The blanket ban, notified to Fonterra suppliers via their milk dockets, was so the co-operative could work through quality issues with copra suppliers, Fonterra's general manager for sustainable milk growth, Mark Leslie, said when contacted by the Taranaki Daily News.
"There are potential milk quality issues that we want to resolve and we are advising farmers not to use the product until further notice," he said.
Mr Leslie said it was a precautionary step. "We are sorting out if there is an issue with particular shipments."
Authority veterinarian Geoff Allen said the authority had investigated copra after concerns by Fonterra.
"It is not the copra itself, which is a very useful food, but the warm, moist conditions in which it is sometimes collected, held, shipped or stored."
Mr Allen said this could lead to mould growing on the copra which could produce aflotoxins, which at high levels could be carcenogenic, or cancer-causing.
While aflotoxins are present in some degree in many stock foods without it being an issue, high levels can cause problems.
Copra is manufactured from the dried kernel of coconut and has been used as a stock feed for cattle, pigs and horses in New Zealand for some years, its high levels of oil and protein helpful in boosting condition and milk production in dairy cows.
However, in recent years its use by dairy farmers has declined with palm kernel being preferred as a supplementary feed.
Ian Wilson, stocks foods super-viser for J. Swap Ltd, the company which distributes copra and palm kernel in the North Island, said that when full its Taranaki store would hold about 30 tonnes of copra compared with about 15,000 tonnes of palm kernel.
Dairy Farmers of New Zealand chairman Frank Brenmuhl said his organisation had been advised of the Fonterra move and urged farmers to go along with the directive, keeping copra away from their milking herds until the stock food was cleared.
"Those with supplies can use it to feed their dry cows, but until we are assured it is meeting standards it should not be used for cows that are being milked."