NZ Government accepts all Fonterra WPC independent inquiry recommendations

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 16th December 2013

The New Zealand Government has released a report on the first stage of the Government inquiry into the Fonterra Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) incident and has said the Government accepts in principle all 29 recommendations.

Background to report

In early August 2013, the biggest food safety scare in New Zealand’s history followed a suspicion that infant formula, and possibly other products, were infected with botulism-causing Clostridium botulinum. The source of the suspected contamination was WPC made by dairy co-operative Fonterra, the output of which constitutes nearly 90 per cent of New Zealand’s dairy production.

Three weeks after the possible contamination was announced, two US-based laboratories confirmed the WPC had never posed any food safety risk. But that news came too late to prevent widespread concern among parents and caregivers, as well as significant economic harm and damage to reputations. The impact was particularly significant in relation to infant formula, an area of growing importance for New Zealand, with an estimated NZ$1 billion worth of exports per year.

First stage investigates adequacy of regulatory systems

The first stage of the Government Inquiry was to investigate the adequacy of, and recommend any changes to, New Zealand’s regulatory and best practice requirements for dairy food safety. The next stage of the independent Inquiry will investigate the particulars of the WPC incident.

The report was released by New Zealand Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye.

“This part of the inquiry focused on our dairy food safety system, and we are pleased to confirm the WPC incident in August this year was not the result of any failure in the regulatory system,” said Nathan Guy, New Zealand Primary Industries Minister. “This is a finding of fundamental importance to reassure our off-shore markets,” he said.

“The inquiry report finds New Zealand’s food safety regulatory model is consistent with international principles and is among the best in the world,” said Nikki Kay, New Zealand Food Safety Minister. “The report was peer reviewed by an international expert in the structure and managment of food safety systems, Professor Alan Reilly who heads the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. He confirmed he was satisfied with the quality and integrity of the inquiry’s report,” she said.

Report recommendations and government response

The report makes a number of recommendations, which the New Zealand Government said were about “further strengthening the New Zealand food safety system for the challenges that lie ahead”.

“Exports to China have trebled since 2007,” Mr Guy said. “On top of that, food safety requirements and systems are continuing to evolve. New Zealand’s export performance depends heavily on the success of the dairy sector and we are committed to ensuring its underpinning food safety system remains world-leading,” he said.

The New Zealand Government said it will allocate between NZ$8-12 million per year for the following key recommendations:

  • Strengthening capability in emerging export markets, particularly China. Additional personnel are needed to support growing China trade. The Government said it has committed to an additional four people in China and six people in other international markets. The specific location of personnel will be agreed between the Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Food Safety, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Trade. The Government has committed an additional NZ$4.430 million in 2014/15 rising to NZ$8.295 million in 2017/18 and out-years to increase the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) presence overseas.

  • Establishing a centre of food safety science and research. The New Zealand Government said this will bring together New Zealand government agencies and research organisations allowing for collaboration, including with overseas science centres. (At least an additional NZ$5 million per year made up of contributions from Government and industry.)

  • Increasing dairy processing and regulatory capability. A working group will be set up to develop a strategic plan and this will see a further NZ$1 million per year invested in dairy capability.

  • Establishing a food safety and assurance advisory council to provide high level independent advice and risk analysis. (NZ$250,000 per year.)

  • Fast-tracking work to consolidate and simplify legislation and regulations. (NZ$250,000 for 2014/15.)

The New Zealand Government said the Inquiry report also recommended that the revision of New Zealand regulatory requirements for the manufacture of infant formula be “fast-tracked”, and that work on this was already underway.

“Legislative change is required to meet some of the recommendations and we will be delivering some of that through the Food Bill, which we hope to pass as soon as possible next year,” Ms Kay said. “We are looking at aligning other food legislation with an omnibus bill in 2014,” she said.

The report is on Parts B and C of the Government’s inquiry, and is separate to the compliance investigation being undertaken by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). Part A of the Government’s inquiry will look at the question of what happened and the regulator’s response. In August 2013, the MPI indicated that the compliance investigation would take three to six months to complete. Part A of the Government’s inquiry cannot be completed until that compliance investigation is completed.

NZ Government has responded to independent Inquiry into Fonterra whey protein scare