Fonterra has placed two senior managers “on leave” in the midst of an internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the recent Clostridium botulinum whey protein concentrate (WPC) contamination scare.
The New Zealand-based dairy cooperative announced late last week that during the course of its on-going internal operational review two senior managers have been placed on leave “effective immediately.”
Fonterra launched the investigation following the issue of a food safety alert over concerns that WPC potentially contaminated with botulism-causing Clostridium botulinum may have entered the supply chain.
Commenting on the suspensions, Fonterra CEO, Theo Spierings said: “We are moving quickly and establishing key facts about what has happened and, as they emerge, we are taking appropriate action.”
Fonterra expects to complete the internal operational review, which is being headed by its group director of strategy, Maury Leyland, by the end of this month.
The announcement comes just days after Gary Romano, the managing director of Fonterra’s NZ Milk Products business, resigned “with immediate effect.”
Government probe “welcomed”
Spierings has also welcomed the launch of a government-backed review of the circumstances surrounding the quality issue.
Earlier today, the New Zealand government announced plans for a Joint Ministerial Inquiry to identify how the potentially-contaminated WPC made its way into the supply chain, and how the issue was “subsequently addressed.”
The Minister of Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, and the Minister of Food Safety, Nikki Kaye, will “then report back on any recommended legal, regulatory and operational changes.”
“This will provide the answers need to the questions that have been raised about this incident, both domestically and internationally. It is also an important step in reassuring our trading partners that we take these issues seriously,” said Guy.
Meanwhile, Fonterra has vowed to provide Kaye and Guy with "all the information needed to do a thorough job.”
“We are determined to learn from what happened and make any changes needed to ensure this does not happen again,” said Spierings.
With today’s launch of a Joint Ministerial Inquiry, the total number of on-going investigations into the potential Clostridium botulinum contamination stands at four.
Alongside Fonterra’s internal operational review, an independent inquiry launched by the cooperative’s board of directors is underway, and last week the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) launched its own “compliance investigation” in an attempt to establish “when relevant parties were informed, and when they should have been informed.”