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Fonterra Executive Gary Romano Resigns After Botulism Scare

August 14, 2013

CEO Theo Spierings will assume interim responsibility for the day-to-day operations of Gary Romano’s division.

Tracy Withers

Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd. said the executive responsible for New Zealand milk products quit after a contamination scare that saw the world’s biggest dairy exporter facing product bans in China and other key markets.

Gary Romano, managing director of New Zealand Milk Products, resigned with immediate effect, the Auckland-based company said today. Chief Executive Officer Theo Spierings will assume interim responsibility for the day-to-day operations of Romano’s division, it said.

Romano fronted news conferences after the crisis erupted on Aug. 3 while Spierings was in China to address the concerns of the company’s biggest customer. Romano was forced to apologize on Aug. 5 for giving misleading information about which baby formula products were affected by the potential contamination in New Zealand.

New Zealand Milk Products is the unit that processes milk into butter, cheese, milk powder and a range of products including whey protein concentrate. Fonterra said on Aug. 3 that batches of the concentrate may contain a bacteria that could cause botulism.

The company’s board has established a committee to oversee an independent inquiry into the circumstances that gave rise to the scare and subsequent events, Chairman John Wilson said Aug. 12. Wilson said he had "complete confidence" that Spierings made the right decisions "but that there are serious lessons that need to be learnt."

Spierings is conducting an operational inquiry into how the contamination, traced to a poorly cleaned pipe at a North Island plant, occurred. The government is planning a ministerial inquiry, and the Ministry for Primary Industries will also review how Fonterra responded.

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