Ministry files four charges against Fonterra over last year’s whey protein incident
March 13 (BusinessDesk) – The Ministry for Primary Industries has filed four charges in the Wellington District Court against Fonterra Cooperative Group for breaches of the Animal Products Act during last year’s whey protein concentrate incident.
The charges are that Fonterra failed to process dairy products in accordance with its risk management programme and didn’t notify authorities about the lapse, exported dairy products that failed to meet animal product standards, and failed to notify the ministry’s director general as soon as possible that the product wasn’t fit for purpose.
The ministry said it wouldn’t make further comment while the charges were before the court. Food safety minister Nikki Kaye also avoided commenting.
Auckland-based Fonterra released results of an operational review into the incident in September, which showed the contamination had occurred at its Hautapu plant in the Waikato back in May 2012 after workers became concerned a piece of plastic had fallen into a drier. Rather than downgrade the product it was decided to reprocess the powder, using a non-standard transfer pipe that was thought to be the source of the contamination. The incident led to a global recall of the contaminated product.
That initial incident was compounded by “a number of un-related events in an unforeseen sequence,” chief executive Theo Spierings said at the time. The contamination was ultimately found to be a harmless strain of bacteria.
“We have accepted all four charges, which are consistent with the findings of our operational review and the independent board inquiry,” Maury Leyland, Fonterra’s director of people, culture and strategy, said in a statement. Fonterra had been “slow” in escalating information about the contamination.
“The WPC80 event caused us to examine in detail what happened, why it happened, and what we must do to minimise the risk of it ever happening again,” Leyland said.
Ultimately, the contamination scare did little to dent global demand for dairy products, which have driven a surge in New Zealand’s export receipts and helped send the terms of trade to a 40-year high.