Friday, August 30, 2013

Fonterra Botulism False Alarm - But WHY?

Wednesday's news that NZ dairy giant Fonterra's botulism scare was
just that - a false alarm - was greeted with a huge collective sigh of relief.
But questions must be answered.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) received results confirming the bacteria found in the Fonterra whey protein concentrate was not the botulism-causing clostridium botulinum, but clostridium sporogenes, which is not capable of producing botulism-causing toxins.
The latest independent research involved a total of 195 tests carried out in both the US and NZ. Fonterra originally commissioned independent testing from AgResearch, as one of only two NZ research facilities capable of carrying out testing for the bacteria. Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings: "On the basis of those results, we had no choice but to announce a global precautionary recall." He acknowledges there was confusion and anxiety arising from the recall and apologises, but says Fonterra would do the same again, if confronted by similar circumstances.
MPI has informed overseas regulators of the new results, and will provide full diagnostics. On the back of these results, NZ and Fonterra now has a solid and clear platform from which to re-enter overseas markets affected by the scare.
The NZ Food and Grocery Council says from an industry perspective Fonterra did exactly the right thing, putting public safety first.
NZ Infant Formula Exporters Assn says it's looking forward to resuming trade with China, but it was dismayed with the way the scare was handled initially, with its members losing millions.
Opposition party Labour's primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor calls the results a complete systems failure by MPI: "This fiasco is a disaster for our clean, green brand. The inability of the ministry's systems means our reputation is always at risk.''
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says MPI's announcement is good news and the govt is relieved. The all-clear will go a long way to reassure international markets that MPI has done a thorough job.
However, there're unanswered questions about the scare, and both MPI and Fonterra need to take an extremely hard look at how it developed.
+ Why was the bacteria wrongfully identified in the first place?
+ Given that the original test showed clostridium botulinum, why was it allowed to continue to progress into the infant formula food chain?
+ Why did it take so long for the warning flags to go up?
+ Why was MPI able to test the product for the bacterium in less than a month whereas it took Fonterra three months (and now has come up with a different result)?
Inquiries are underway...

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