The New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) has launched a "compliance investigation" into Fonterra’s recent whey protein concentrate (WPC) Clostridium botulinum contamination scare.
The MPI probe, which is likely to take between three and six months, will examine whether “regulatory requirements under the Food Act and the Animal Products Act were met by all parties involved, or whether any parties may have committed any breaches or offences.”
Scott Gallacher, the acting director general of the MPI, said that the probe will examine “when relevant parties were informed, and when they should have been informed.”
“The investigation will include decisions made by all parties and their response, including during production of the whey protein concentrate, and from when anomalies in testing initially arose,” said Gallacher.
Fonterra issued a food safety alert to several customers, including a number of infant nutrition product manufacturers, on 2 August 2013 over concerns that three batches of potentially-contaminated WPC may have entered the supply chain.
The batches in question were manufactured at a Fonterra processing facility in New Zealand in May 2012.
Fonterra first identified a quality issue in March 2013, before additional testing identified the “potential presence” of Clostridium botulinum – a bacterium that can cause the potentially fatal illness botulism.
As a result of the discovery, multiple recalls of potentially-contaminated products have been initiated across Australasia, Asia and the Middle East.
If determined to have breached the Food Act and the Animal Products Act, Fonterra faces fines of up to NZ$500,000 (US$400,000, €300,000).
Fonterra independent review
Last week, Fonterra also announced plans to carry out an independent review of the cooperative’s performance “at the time of, and following, the manufacture of the affected whey protein concentrate.”
“It is critical that we identify these lessons quickly so our farmers, governments, customers, consumers and unit holders can again have full confidence in Fonterra and its products,” said Fonterra chairman, John Wilson.
“The inquiry will start immediately and it is the Board’s intention to have it completed within six weeks. However, the emphasis will be on a full and thorough investigation.”