Nestlé scrutinises 50 South Island dairy farms

Global food and beverage manufacturer Nestlé sent a group of representatives to inspect 50 randomly selected South Island dairy farms - including some in Otago and Southland - last week.

The audit is part of a new pilot project between the corporate giant and Fonterra.

However, Fonterra's global sales director Tim Deane the visit was not linked in any way to the botulism scare last year.

''It had been on the cards for a while,'' Mr Deane said.

Nestlé, like other Fonterra customers, regularly visited plant and factories for auditing.

However, on-farm visits in New Zealand were a first for Nestle.

Mr Deane said Fonterra was ''pretty relaxed'' about being part of the pilot, as its supplier standards were high.

''We welcome the opportunity to work with Nestlé and see it as a positive thing.''

He said the move was just part of increasing consumer expectations.

Nestlé is one of Fonterra's biggest multinational customers and buys a full range of dairy products. It employs about 339,000 people in more than 150 countries.

A Nestlé spokesperson said the company was working with several major dairy companies in New Zealand, Europe and the United States to test and finalise a protocol to assess responsible sourcing of dairy ingredients.

''Farmers supplying each of these dairy companies will go through the assessment process then provide feedback to our team on the relevance and effectiveness of the protocol in their local context,'' the spokesperson said.

''In New Zealand, we are visiting 50 farmers in the South Island.

''The feedback from these 'first movers' will go to finalise the protocol, which will be used to assess performance against the Nestlé Responsible Sourcing Guidelines and help farmers improve their practices where necessary.''

The guidelines were to ensure its ingredients, including milk products from New Zealand, were produced responsibly and sustainably, and that the company could give consumers and other stakeholders information about where ingredients originated and how they were produced.

''The quality and safety of our products are non-negotiable priorities for Nestlé, and we set standards in these areas for all ingredients we buy, which suppliers must meet.

''Responsible Sourcing Guidelines have been developed for 12 key materials, including dairy, focusing on particular priority areas specific to each of these materials.

''In dairy, we focus primarily on environmental management and animal welfare.''

The Responsible Sourcing Guidelines complement the Nestlé Supplier Code, which applies to all materials and sets out the standards it expects its suppliers to meet in areas such as human rights, labour practices, environmental impacts, conversion of natural vegetation, land use rights, animal welfare and creation of shared value for society and local communities and rural development.

By the end of 2014 it will have carried out 2507 assessments, including the 50 in the South Island.

Mr Deane said it was too early to know what any of the assessments or comments said.

''Many of the farmers were excited by the visits and were looking forward to showcasing what they do.

''We will be interested in the feedback and how we stack up.

''It will be valuable and we are comfortable with the process,'' he said.