In the wake of last year’s Fonterra whey protein concentrate (WPC) incident, the New Zealand government has established a working group designed to improve traceability in the country’s dairy sector.
In a statement issued earlier today, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye announced plans to establish the working group to “investigate possible changes to regulations and industry practices to improve food and ingredient traceability.”
Members will be appointed to the group from the Food and Grocery Council, the New Zealand Retailers Association, GS1 New Zealand, the Dairy Company Association of New Zealand (DCANZ), the Infant Nutrition Council, the New Zealand Infant Formula Exporters’ Association, AsureQuality, and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
The group, which will hold its first meeting in March, will report back to MPI director general Martyn Dunne.
Food Safety Minister Kaye hopes that the group, which will be headed up by New Zealand’s former High Commissioner to Australia Dr John Larkindale, will “further protect the public in the event of a suspected food safety issue.”
“It is crucial for government and industry to work together on this issue. In order to have full traceability, both government and industry systems must be robust and aligned,” she said.
Strengthen the system
New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra issued a food safety alert to several customers on 2 August 2013 over concerns that three batches of WPC potentially contaminated with botulism-causing Clostridium botulinum had entered the supply chain.
Tests later confirmed that the bacteria found in the batches were not Clostridium botulinum, but Clostridium sporogenes – a non-toxic Clostridium strain.
The follow-up results came too late, however, for a number of Fonterra customers, including Danone-owned Nutricia Australia New Zealand (Nutricia ANZ) and Dumex, who voluntarily pulled products from shelves across Asia, the Middle East and Australasia in response to the initial alert.
A New Zealand government inquiry into the incident concluded that the botulism scare was "not the result of any regulatory failure." It recommended, however, that investment be made to refresh legislation.
The inquiry “highlighted the importance of effective systems for dairy traceability,” said Guy.
“The inquiry recommended lifting the dairy sector’s ability to trace products and ingredients through a working group focusing on regulatory and worldwide best practices,” he said.
“The independent inquiry into last year’s WPC incident found that New Zealand’s food safety regulatory model for dairy is consistent with international principles and is among the best in the world. These changes will further strengthen the system," he added.