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Fonterra to plead guilty to botulism scare charges

By RJ Whitehead , 13-Mar-2014

Fonterra to plead guilty to botulism scare charges

Fonterra, the world’s biggest dairy company, has indicated that it will plead guilty to charges following and investigation by New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries into events leading up to the precautionary whey protein concentrate recall across Asia last year. 

The charges include failing to meet export standards and failing to alert the regulator that exported product was unfit for purpose.

It was subsequently confirmed that the recalled WPC80 batch did not present a health risk, but then the MPI examined whether Fonterra had complied with all its food safety and quality obligations under New Zealand law in connection with the events leading to the precautionary recall. 

Accepted responsibility

MPI has filed four charges against Fonterra relating to breaches of the Animal Products Act. Fonterra’s managing director for people, culture and strategy, Maury Leyland, said the company had co-operated fully with MPI throughout its investigation, and accepted responsibility for the allegations made in the charges.  

We have accepted all four charges, which are consistent with the findings of our operational review, and the Independent board Inquiry,” said Leyland.

The company later clarified that it intended to plead guilty to the charges.

We have previously detailed issues relating to the decision to reprocess the original WPC80, and being slow about escalating information, which are reflected in the charges laid by MPI,” Leyland continued.

The WPC80 event caused us to examine in detail what happened, why it happened, and what we must do to minimise the risk of it ever happening again. We are making good progress on implementing the necessary improvements the operational review and independent board Inquiry identified.”

Fonterra is also working with the government to progress all the recommendations of its review of New Zealand’s dairy food safety regulatory framework, undertaken last year.    

Company chairman John Wilson subsequently emailed the company's thousands of shareholders informing them of the development.

Key to lobby China

In August last year, Fonterra sparked a worldwide product recall and global food-safety scare when it admitted to the possibility of bacteria that could cause botulism in one of its infant formula ingredients.

A number of countries then blocked dairy products from New Zealand in the wake of the scare, which turned out to be a false alarm.

New Zealand prime minister John Key will shortly travel to Beijing to explain the findings of an independent report into New Zealand's food safety system, which, although it found room for improvement, said that the system generally performed well.

Key said the matter was being handled independently of the government, but the charges reflected that New Zealand saw food safety as important.

"It shows that the regulator takes these issues very seriously," Key told reporters today. "They are there to preserve and make sure we enhance the reputation of New Zealand as a producer of high quality food.”

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