Companies including Fonterra, the world’s biggest dairy co-operative, and Synlait have individually declared that the threat to contaminate infant and other formula with the pesticide 1080 was negligible. However, they did admit to increasing security in the wake of the threat.
The threats, in the form of letters sent to farming and dairy industry leaders last November, were accompanied by small packages of milk powder that were shown to contain the presence of a concentrated form of the substance.
Viewed as a ‘criminal threat’
The sender demanded that the New Zealand government stop using 1080 for pest control by the end of this month.
Sodium monofluoroacetate, branded 1080, is a poison used to protect New Zealand's native flora and fauna against introduced pests like possums and ferrets.
Opponents, however, argue that it also kills native animals and contaminates the environment.
Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings said the “criminal threat” targeted New Zealand and the entire dairy industry.
“We can fully assure our customers and consumers that all of our milk and products are safe and of high quality, and our supply chain continues to be secure and world-class,” he said in a statement.
He added that the co-operative had joined the rest of the dairy industry to help the government manage the threat.
Fonterra has worked with the Ministry for Primary Industries to establish a validated testing regime that was being used by the dairy industry for both raw milk and dairy products targeted by the threat, he said.
Westland Milk Products, New Zealand’s second biggest dairy co-operative, says there is no evidence that the safety of its products has been compromised by a threat to contaminate infant and other dairy formula with sodium monoflouroacetate.
“We are very confident that our products are secure while within our manufacturing and distribution systems,” said Rod Quin, its chief executive, stressing that the situation was not caused by any Kiwi food chain deficiency.
“This is a criminal threat and is being treated as such. We are doing everything we can to support this investigation and protect consumers,” Quin added.
The criminal investigation is being led by the New Zealand Police, supported by a raft of government and industry agencies.
Synlait takes added precautions
Synlait Milk said it too was confident that its food safety systems and security standards protected the integrity of its products.
"We have full end-to-end supply chain control from farm to container for all milk powder and infant formula products. This includes quality testing of raw milk and comprehensive testing of finished product before it is loaded in shipping containers for export," Synlait managing director John Penno said in a statement.
Since becoming aware of the threat, Synlait has taken extra precautions to increase security.
"Our customers are informed and we do not expect significant business interruption from this threat to the industry," said Penno.
New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key, explained that the threat had not been made public earlier because the government wanted to give the police time to catch the perpetrator.
He said news outlets had started to become aware that something was going on, prompting the media announcement.