Government-owned AgResearch has denied reports that it "confirmed" the presence of botulism-causing Clostridium botulinum in the recalled Fonterra WPC that later became the subject of an international food safety crisis.
AgResearch claims that its research only “potentially detected Clostridium botulinum”, and that it “recommended that further testing be conducted” on the back of its results.
Instead, Fonterra chose to issue a food safety warning to eight customers, including manufacturers of infant formula and growing-up milk, over concerns that the potentially-contaminated WPC had entered the supply chain. In response to the alert, finished products containing the WPC were recalled across Australasia, Asia and the Middle East by firms including Danone-owned Nutricia and Dumex.
Additional tests have since confirmed that the bacteria found in the recalled batches were not Clostridium botulinum, but Clostridium sporogenes – a non-toxic Clostridium strain.
Address public misunderstanding
Earlier today, Hamilton-based AgResearch issued a statement in an attempt to “address public misunderstanding surrounding work undertaken in AgResearch in relation to Clostridium isolates provided by Fonterra.”
“Contrary to some statements in the media, Ag Research did not confirm the presence of Clostridium botulinum in the isolates provided by Fonterra, but reported that the research had potentially detected Clostridium botulinum and recommended that further testing be conducted,” said the statement.
“AgResearch has reviewed its work, and remains confident in the work its experts carried out and reported to Fonterra,” the AgResearch statement added.
No single cause of recall
Yesterday, Fonterra announced the findings of its internal operational review into the WPC recall.
The investigation, which was ordered by Fonterra CEO, Theo Spierings, concluded that the precautionary recall was “not the result of one single cause.” Rather, the review found that it was the “result of a number of separate and unrelated events occurring in an unforeseen sequence.”
Fonterra identified “the decision to reprocesses the original WPC80 and not downgrade the product, in combination with the use of an item of non-standard equipment” as the cause of the contamination. A “one-off lapse in information sharing” also led to an initial delay in testing, the review found.
With the investigation now complete, the question of whether Fonterra could take legal action against AgResearch remains unanswered.
DairyReporter.com approached Fonterra regarding AgResearch and the role its test results played in the recall, but no one from the New Zealand-based dairy cooperative was available to comment prior to publication.