Fonterra Whey Powder Cleared of Botulism in Government Tests

August 28, 2013 05:04 AM
Fonterra Whey Powder Cleared of Botulism in Government Tests

The findings may help the world’s largest dairy exporter restore its reputation globally after its recent contamination scare.

Tracy Withers

New Zealand testing cleared milk protein made by Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd. of a bacteria linked to botulism, after a contamination scare that sparked a global recall and dented the company’s reputation in China.

The suspect whey protein concentrate was found to contain a bacteria that posed no food safety risk, Scott Gallacher, acting director general of the Ministry of Primary Industries, said today on a conference call.

The findings may help the world’s largest dairy exporter restore its reputation globally after the contamination scare this month prompted concerns that New Zealand has food safety issues, threatening exports which make up about 30 percent of the economy. Dairy is New Zealand’s largest foreign exchange earner, accounting for 28 percent of overseas sales.

"Recalls occur" in the food industry, Chief Executive Officer Theo Spierings said on a conference call from Auckland. "You go through a phase of turbulence. There are definitely questions, anxiety and reputational issues at stake but if you manage that properly, and you come to the table with the facts, you can come out better in the end."

New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries tested whey protein samples locally and at overseas laboratories, it said today in a statement. It defended its initial response, which involved recalls of infant formula, as a precautionary approach.

Fonterra’s testing had identified two strains of bacteria but was unable to be more specific, and called in government- owned AgResearch, which subsequently identified the possible presence of the botulism-linked bacteria, Spierings said. On that basis, the company began the global recall.

Fonterra Relieved

Spierings said he was "relieved" at the conclusion of the ministry’s tests, and had questions of his own for AgResearch. There are other lessons from the events that the company is putting into practice and informing its customers about, he said.

China, which is New Zealand’s biggest dairy customer, bought NZ$3 billion ($2.3 billion) worth of dairy products in the year through June. Fonterra on Aug. 2 announced the potential botulism-linked contamination and recalled product globally. Countries including China and Russia suspended imports of some Fonterra milk powder products. 

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