Fonterra must show ‘willingness to learn’ from WPC botulism scare: Inquiry


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Related tags Clostridium botulinum Whey protein Fonterra

The WPC botulism scare originated at Fonterra's Hautapu plant in Waikato (pictured)
The WPC botulism scare originated at Fonterra's Hautapu plant in Waikato (pictured)
Fonterra faces "serious global implications" unless it learns from the mistakes that led to the recent whey protein concentrate (WPC) botulism scare, the committee overseeing an independent investigation into the incident has claimed.

In a foreword to the inquiry findings​, signed by members of a committee tasked with overseeing the investigation, the New Zealand-based dairy exporter was urged to learn from its mistakes in order to avoid a "further episode."

Fonterra issued a food safety alert to eight customers on 2 August 2013, warning that three batches of WPC potentially contaminated with botulism-causing Clostridium botulinum had entered the supply chain. Additional testing later revealed, however, that the bacteria found in the affected WPC batches were not Clostridium botulinum, but Clostridium sporogenes – a non-toxic Clostridium strain.

“The fact that the ‘botulism scare’ was a false alarm does not diminish the work of the inquiry," ​said the report foreword.

"While it may be inaccurate and unfair, in some markets Fonterra is associated with the melamine events in China in 2008, and concerns about DCD in fertilizers earlier in 2013, as well as the WPC80 events.

“The Committee has no doubt that a further episode would have serious global implications for Fonterra.”

“That means that it is important demonstrates its willingness to learn more from the WPC80 events,”​ it added.

“Shortcomings in a number of areas”

Fonterra chairman, John Wilson, set up the aforementioned committee in August to oversee a review of the circumstances surrounding the WPC alert. Jack Hodder, QC of legal firm Chapman Tripp, was appointed by the committee to head up the review.

The review report, published earlier today, identified a lack of senior oversight of crucial decisions, issues with the tracing of potentially affected products, and delayed escalation of the issue, as the key drivers of the event. A total of 33 recommendations addressing the issues that led to the WPC alert were also made.

“There were shortcomings in a number of areas, which, compounded by a number of events and coincidences, converged to create this significant issue,"​ said Hodder at the tabling of the review.

“Our findings and recommendations do not indicate any fundamental problems within Fonterra. That is not our conclusion.”

“They do point to a range of improvements Fonterra can make to become an even better company," ​he added.

Operational Review “overlap”

Meanwhile, Fonterra chairman, John Wilson, has welcomed the completion of the independent inquiry, which he said has a “significant degree of overlap with management’s Operational Review.”

“There are no contradictions between the two sets of recommendations."

Fonterra’s Operational Review, ordered by the cooperative’s CEO Theo Spierings, established that the recall was the result of a number of “separate and unrelated events occurring in an unforeseen sequence.”​ It also recommended a series of operational improvements.

“Much of the recommended change is already underway, or has already been identified as needing to be changed,” ​Wilson continued.

“We are committed to adopting a ‘best of class’ philosophy around food safety and incorporating the latest, world class methods into every facet of our operations.”

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