The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is considering the provisional implementation of stricter food safety measures in the dairy industry following a recent spate of high-profile product contamination cases.
In a statement issued earlier today, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) – the country’s agricultural regulator – announced that it is “exploring interim measures to strengthen consumer assurances around New Zealand’s dairy production.”
The announcement follows a tough few weeks for the country’s dairy industry.
Earlier this month, Fonterra issued an alert to eight customers over concerns that three batches of whey protein concentrate (WPC) potentially-contaminated with botulism-causing Clostridium botulinum had entered the supply chain. The alert led to product recalls across Australasia, Asia, and the Middle East.
According to the MPI, this and other recent food safety concerns have “sparked debate” about certain elements of the country’s food system.
Increase regulatory presence
“Our dairy sector trades on New Zealand’s reputation, and that reputation is built on the strong assurances our regulatory system provides, and the quality of New Zealand’s products,” said MPI acting director general, Scott Gallacher.
“The reality is the convergence of events over the last six months has sparked debate about some elements of our food system. We need to respond to that.”
In an effort to offset these concerns, the MPI has vowed to temporarily increase its regulatory presence in manufacturing premises, and it plans to increase the level and nature of testing throughout the dairy supply chain “to improve the identification of non-compliance issues.”
Simulations will also be run to test the industry’s track and trace capabilities, and reviews of current industry risk management plan will increase, the MPI added.
Room for improvement?
Alongside this month's WPC issue, Fonterra has faced restrictions in Sri Lanka over concerns about the presence agricultural chemical dicyandiamide (DCD) in its Anchor brand milk powder.
New Zealand-based processor, Westland Milk Products, also hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.
Just yesterday, the MPI was forced to revoke export permits attached to four shipments of lactoferrin manufactured by Westland, after excessive levels of nitrate were detected in the dairy protein.
Despite all of these recent issues, the MPI has voiced confidence in the country’s existing food safety system.
“In any food system, there are issues that arise from time to time. New Zealand’s food system is no different. Our testing regimes are thorough and robust when compared with the world’s leading dairy producing nations,” said Gallacher.
“Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement. I am confident these interim measures will help to reinforce consumer trust and confidence in our dairy products,” he added.