Fonterra admits guilt on NZ charges for 2013 whey protein incident

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 17th March 2014
Fonterra has admitted guilt on 2013 whey protein recall charges

Dairy giant Fonterra Limited (Fonterra) has accepted the food safety charges arising from the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries’ (MPI) investigation into events leading up to the whey protein concentrate (WPC80) botulism scare and subsequent recall in 2013.

While it was later confirmed that the recalled WPC80 did not present a health risk, the MPI has filed four charges against Fonterra relating to breaches of the Animal Products Act.

The MPI examined whether Fonterra had complied with all its food safety and quality obligations, under New Zealand’s Food Act and Animal Products Act in connection with the events leading to the recall.

Charging documents have been filed for the following four charges:

  1. Processing dairy product not being in accordance with Fonterra’s Risk Management Programme

  2. Exporting dairy product that failed to meet relevant animal product standards

  3. Failing to notify Fonterra’s verifier of significant concerns that dairy product had not been processed in accordance with its Risk Management Programme

  4. Failing to notify the Director General as soon as possible that exported dairy product was not fit for intended purpose.

Fonterra said it had co-operated fully with the MPI throughout its investigation, and accepts responsibility for the allegations made in the charges. The charges reportedly carry a maximum penalty of NZ$500,000 (AU$472,805).

“We have accepted all four charges, which are consistent with the findings of our Operational Review, and the Independent Board Inquiry,” said Ms Maury Leyland, Fonterra’s Managing Director of People, Culture and Strategy.

“We have previously detailed issues relating to the decision to reprocess the original WPC80, and being slow about escalating information — which are reflected in the charges laid by MPI,” Ms Leyland said.

Fonterra said food quality and safety remained its “top priority” and were fundamental to its business. Australian Food News reported in December 2013 that the Fonterra WPC80 scare had prompted a number of separate inquiries not being part of the MPI investigation into the prosecution of charges referred to above.

An interim report in 2013 on best practice requirements for dairy food safety had recommended that revision of New Zealand regulatory requirements for the manufacture of infant formula be “fast-tracked”, and this work was already underway.

According to Fonterra, the WPC80 event caused the Company to “examine in detail what happened, why it happened, and what we must do to minimise the risk of it ever happening again”.

“We are making good progress on implementing the necessary improvements the Operational Review and Independent Board Inquiry identified,” Ms Leyland said. “We are also working with the Government to progress all the recommendations of its review of New Zealand’s dairy food safety regulatory framework, undertaken last year,” she said.

“Our customers and consumers need to know that New Zealand’s food quality and safety regulations are being robustly applied by food manufacturers and enforced by New Zealand authorities,” Ms Leyland said.