The false alarm over Fonterra's botulism scare in some of its
whey concentrate product has resulted in a relieved food
industry but prompted questions about how testing could have
failed on such an epic scale.
Opposition parties say questions need to be asked into how
the "fiasco" was allowed to develop and Fonterra has
confirmed it will conduct internal reviews into the issue.
The Ministry for Primary Industries said yesterday that the
bacteria found in some of Fonterra's whey concentrate was not
the botulism-causing Clostridium botulinum, but Clostridium
sporogenes, which has no safety issues.
The false results, on tests done by Crown-owned AgResearch
this month, has dented the country's food safety reputation
and cost exporters millions of dollars in lost revenue.
After the contamination scare, China temporarily suspended
imports of Fonterra whey powder and dairy base powder, while
Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus banned Fonterra products until
at least the end of the year.
Infant Formula Exporters Association chief administrative
officer Chris Claridge said he had been dismayed and
disturbed about the way the scare was handled.
New Zealand needed a more co-ordinated and coherent approach
to food scares, he said.
"I've lost a million dollars worth of trade and I'm a small
and medium-sized exporter."
One of the companies hit hardest by the scare, Nutricia,
which had some baby formula products recalled, said the
latest results had mirrored its own testing that its product
was free of Clostridium botulinum.
The company's legal team based at its head office in
Amsterdam would discuss the issue, a spokeswoman said.
Labour primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor called
the results a "complete systems failure by the Ministry for
Greens co-leader Russel Norman said the ministry and Fonterra
both needed to take an extremely hard look at how the
"fiasco" had developed.
Additional testing commissioned by the ministry of the
original samples tested by AgResearch led to Fonterra and the
ministry initiating the precautionary recall on August 2.
The latest independent research involved a total of 195 tests
in the United States and New Zealand, with results arriving
The ministry's acting director-general, Scott Gallacher, said
it needed to act on what it knew at that time. "The
information we had then said there was a food safety risk to
consumers and we moved quickly to address it," he said.
Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings said the co-operative
had done the right thing with the recall and would do the
same again, if confronted by similar circumstances.
"I believe that we ... made the right calls all the way
through this," he told a news conference. "Of course it was
not an easy product recall."
Spierings acknowledged there had been confusion and anxiety
arising from the complexity of the precautionary recall, and
apologised for it.
Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said
the news that there was no botulism risk from the Fonterra
batches of whey would come as a huge relief to consumers
around world, as well as to the company and the food
industry. While some people would ask whether the
precautionary recalls were a waste of time, she said, the
answer was no.
"From a food industry perspective Fonterra did exactly the
right thing - they put public safety first."
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said the all-clear and
the tracing report would go a long way to reassure
However, he said, there were still unanswered questions about
the scare and how it was handled. - additional reporting:
- Jamie Gray and Adam Bennett