Fonterra bosses to face MPs

VERNON SMALL AND STACEY KIRK
Last updated 07:46 09/08/2013

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Fonterra bosses have been summoned to Wellington to front to the Government over the botulism crisis.

Chairman John Wilson and chief executive Theo Spierings are expected to offer the Government an apology for the mess, which saw three batches of milk powder products recalled for fear they contained a bacteria which caused the deadly botulism virus.

Wilson and Spierings will meet Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, Trade Minister Tim Groser and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy.

Only yesterday did Wilson break his silence to apologise to customers and consumers and announce a separate no-holds barred board inquiry into the food safety scare.

Wilson has copped heavy criticism for ducking interviews and press conferences in the wake of revelations that Fonterra had distributed 38 tonnes of potentially contaminated whey powder to eight customers.

At a press conference, he conceded there were serious lessons that needed to be learnt.

"That is why ... the board will also be conducting a full and thorough formal review that will be led by the independent directors of Fonterra, and will include independent expert advice."

But he said he would not be removing himself from the role, rather, that was up to the board and shareholders to decide

Federated Farmers dairy head Lachlan McKenzie has criticised the giant co-operative for not being proactive by flagging the problem in March when it was first discovered.

He said it should have recalled the affected products then.

Sources said yesterday Fonterra was under an obligation to disclose its concerns in March, under provisions in laws governing food safety, if it had any significant concerns.

It has already come under fire for not informing regulator AsureQuality within the required 24-hour period, once it knew last week that the bacteria was the dangerous clostridium botulinum.

Under the Animal Products Act it must maintain a risk management programme (RMP) and notify the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) "in writing, without unnecessary delay of . . . any significant concern about the fitness for intended purpose of animal material or animal product".

The ministry would not comment directly on the issue, but a spokeswoman said the Food Act and the Animal Products Act were the basis for food safety law.

Under those laws operators must identify the risks associated with their food products and their manufacturers, document them, and put into place procedures to eliminate or reduce these risks.

"The Ministry for Primary Industries will be posing various questions of Fonterra in relation to this event and the response to it," the spokeswoman said.

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"It would be premature to be drawn into detail at this stage."

Fonterra became aware the strain in the whey was clostridium botulinum on July 31 and told MPI two days later on August 2.

MPI on Wednesday confirmed that under Fonterra's RMP it was required to inform AsureQuality and MPI within 24 hours of test results showing a potential food safety issue.

"I am advised that this didn't occur in this case," ministry acting director general Scott Gallacher said.

- Fairfax Media

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