The New Zealand government has insisted its inquiry into the whey protein contamination at Fonterra “will provide the answers needed”.
The country’s Ministry for Primary Industries today (19 August) set out plans for a two-part investigation into the contamination that caused recalls across Asia and import bans placed on Fonterra products.
Nathan Guy, New Zealand’s Primary Industries Minister, said the inquiry would look at how the contaminated ingredient – which contained a bacteria that could have caused botulism – entered the domestic and overseas market and how Fonterra moved to address the issue. The inquiry will then look at how regulators responded.
“This will provide the answers needed 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,” Guy said.
Miriam Dean QC, a prominent New Zealand lawyer, will chair the inquiry. Two other members, including an “international food safety expert” will also be appointed, the ministry said.
Food safety minister Nikki Kaye added: “I think it is important in terms of independence that we have an international expert on food safety and systems as part of the inquiry.”
The Ministry for Primary Industries is already carrying out its own investigation. Fonterra is holding two – one of which has led to two, unnamed “senior managers” being placed on leave.
Last Wednesday, Fonterra announced Gary Romano, the head of its domestic milk products business, had resigned. Fonterra did not specify whether his depature was directly linked to the contamination and the subsequent investigations but Romano was the first senior executive to exit the company since the recall.
Reacting to news of the government inquiry, Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings said: “We look forward to assisting Ministers Nathan Guy and Nikki Kaye with the inquiry and will provide all the information needed to do a thorough job.”
He added: “We are determined to learn from what happened and make any changes needed to ensure this does not happen again. We want to do everything we can to make sure our farmers, customers, governments, unit holders, and the general public have full confidence in Fonterra and our products.”