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A New Zealand farming body and dairy giant Fonterra have received letters threatening to poison milk formula with pesticide 1080.
Federated Farmers and Fonterra received the anonymous letters in November, said officials, along with sachets of contaminated product.
The letters appeared to be a protest over the use of the pesticide 1080 in agriculture.
New Zealand’s PM John Key said milk formula was still safe to be consumed.
Officials said the person or group who sent the letters had threatened to carry out and publicize their threat unless New Zealand stopped using 1080 by the end of March.
At a news briefing at parliament on Tuesday, PM John Key said the news was being announced now because of increasing media enquiries.
He said there was “a low likelihood of the threat being carried out, but because of the nature of it, both the police and ministers have taken the treat seriously”.
“I want to reassure parents that every step possible has been taken to respond to the threat, to ensure the ongoing safety of our food products.”
John Key called the threat “a form of ecoterrorism, without doubt”, reported the New Zealand Herald.
Police Deputy Commissioner of National Operations Mike Clement said the threat was possibly a hoax but that police were treating it as blackmail. He said a team had been investigating it since November.
“The letter writer may not have really considered the implications of their actions when this communication was drafted,” he said.
Officials said that security measures by players in the supply chain had been significantly tightened since the threats began, and that no traces of 1080 had been found in milk formula. About 40,000 tests have been conducted on products.
“The ability for anybody to deliberately contaminate infant and other formula during manufacturing is extremely low,” said Scott Gallagher, the deputy director general for the ministry for primary industries.
Fonterra chief Theo Spierings called the threat “despicable”.
In a statement, Fonterra said the entire dairy industry had been targeted, but that it could assure its customers that “all of our milk and products are safe and of high quality, and our supply chain continues to be secure and world-class”.
Police are appealing to the public to report anyone who had strong views about 1080 and had made threats before.
Government officials are also asking the public to step up vigilance and check packaging for signs of tampering.
New Zealand is the world’s largest dairy exporter, and Fonterra products are popular in Asia, in particular China.
Fonterra faced a food scare in 2013 when it said contaminated products that could cause botulism had been exported overseas.
It was later found to have been a false alarm, but the scare led to many countries blocking imports of those particular products. China lifted its ban last October.
New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra said today it plans to take a 20% stake in Chinese infant food manufacturer Beingmate.
Fonterra will also spend $555 million on expanding its milk powder making capacity in New Zealand.
Beingmate is one of China’s biggest milk processors.
The tie-up would help create a global supply chain aimed at China’s market using Fonterra’s milk manufacturing partners in Australia and Europe.
It would also help Fonterra increase its share of China’s large and lucrative infant diary food market.
China relies on New Zealand for almost all its imports of milk powder.
Fonterra plans to take a 20 percent stake in Chinese infant food manufacturer Beingmate (photo Fonterra)
If successful, the new partnership between Beingmate and Fonterra would see the Chinese company set up a joint venture to buy a Fonterra plant in Australia.
It would also see Beingmate distribute Fonterra’s popular Anmum brand on the mainland.
Fonterra’s chief executive Theo Spierings said the partnership would be a “game changer” and that it would provide Fonterra with “a direct line into the infant formula market in China”.
He also said Fonterra would work with Beingmate “to evaluate mutual investments in dairy farms in China”.
“The partnership will create a fully integrated global supply chain from the farm gate direct to China’s consumers, using Fonterra’s milk pools and manufacturing sites in New Zealand, Australia, and Europe,” the company said.
Fonterra said the infant formula market in China was worth about $15.05 billion today and that it would be worth some $27.5bn by 2017.
“This growth is driven by increasing urbanization, higher disposable incomes, a preference for premium brands and relaxation of the one-child policy,” said Theo Spierings.
China puts a premium on imported dairy food products after a tainted milk formula scandal in 2008 killed six babies and made some 300,000 infants ill.
Following that, a food scare related to Fonterra products last year saw China ban all milk powder imports from New Zealand for a period of time.
Fonterra, which is a farmer-owned co-operative and the largest exporter of dairy products in the world, said it had found a bacterial strain in some of its products that can cause botulism.
Testing later found there had been no problem with the company’s diary products.
Fonterra was nevertheless fined $256,675 over the food scare, which led to a global product recall.
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New Zealand’s dairy giant Fonterra has been fined $NZ300,000 ($255,000) after it admitted four food-safety violations during a 2013 botulism scare.
The scare led to a worldwide milk product recall and to several countries blocking imports of New Zealand dairy products.
Testing later found there had been no problem with Fonterra’s products.
New Zealand’s dairy giant Fonterra has been fined $NZ300,000 after it admitted four food-safety violations during a 2013 botulism scare
Fonterra had faced a maximum fine of $NZ500,000 for the charges, relating to breaches of an animal products act.
It had admitted the four charges in March.
Fonterra is the world’s largest exporter of dairy products and had said it would not contest the charges.
The botulism scare related to a milk product used widely in infant formula.
The milk product, which is used by several multinational companies, was suspected of containing a bacteria that could cause botulism which is a severe form of food poisoning.
Fonterra was sentenced by Judge Peter Hobbs in a district court in Wellington, New Zealand, on Friday.
“New Zealand’s reputation for high-quality dairy products was shaken,” Australia’s Fairfax News reported Judge Peter Hobbs saying on Friday.
Judge Peter Hobbs said he accepted that the scare resulted from carelessness and failure to follow procedure, rather than any deliberate action, but said Fonterra could and should have done better.
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New Zealand has announced that Fonterra dairy products at the centre of a global contamination scare did not contain botulism-causing bacteria.
The scare had triggered a recall and import bans from some countries.
However, the Ministry for Primary Industries said that tests indicated the presence of a different type of bacteria that does not cause botulism.
Fonterra is the biggest dairy firm in New Zealand, which is the world’s largest exporter of dairy products.
Fonterra dairy products at the centre of a global contamination scare did not contain botulism-causing bacteria
“The bacteria found in the whey protein concentrate (WPC) manufactured by Fonterra is not Clostridium botulinum,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The organism is confirmed as Clostridium sporogenes. It is therefore not capable of producing botulism-causing toxins.”
Earlier this month, Fonterra had said that some of its products were contaminated by a dirty pipe at one of its processing plants.
The discovery led to inquiries into the contamination, including one by PM John Key, and triggered concerns over the impact on New Zealand’s dairy sector.
Dairy exports account for about a quarter of New Zealand’s export earnings and the dairy industry contributes about 7% of the country’s gross domestic product.
Fonterra accounts for almost 90% of the country’s milk production.
The scare over its products led to import bans by China and some other countries.
The company was also criticized for delays in disclosing the contamination. Earlier this month the head of its New Zealand milk products, Gary Romano, quit the firm.
New Zealand dairy firm Fonterra has apologized for the distress caused to parents because of a scare over contaminated products.
Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings was speaking in China after it emerged on Saturday that batches of whey protein contained bacteria that can cause botulism.
Contaminated products, including infant formula, were exported to a number of countries, including China.
Botulism is an extremely dangerous form of food poisoning.
“We regret the distress and anxiety which this issue could have caused,” Theo Spierings told reporters in Beijing.
“Parents have the right to know that infant nutrition and other products are safe.”
Theo Spierings added that Fonterra was committed to China and was working with regulators to address the problem.
China and Russia have moved to ban imports of the contaminated products.
Fonterra said it had received confirmation that China had not imposed a blanket ban on its products.
Fonterra has apologized for the distress caused to parents because of a scare over contaminated products
Earlier on Monday, New Zealand PM John Key questioned why Fonterra, the world’s largest dairy exporter, delayed raising the alarm over the contaminated products.
John Key said concerns were raised after a series of tests in May 2012.
“When you’ve got a company that’s our largest company, our largest brand, our largest exporter that is the flagship for New Zealand and your whole business is about food safety and food quality you think they’d take such a precautionary view to these things and say if it’s testing for some reason in an odd way that it would just be discarded until they were absolutely sure that its right,” John Key said.
However, Theo Spierings addressed this by saying that the first sign of a problem only came to light after tests in March this year.
Fonterra said the bacteria came from a dirty pipe at a processing plant for whey protein concentrate.
It said the bacteria had been found in three batches of whey protein which had been used in Nutricia Karicare for infants.
Fonterra has exported the contaminated whey protein concentrate to China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
So far, there have not been any illnesses reported related to the contaminated products.
China relies heavily on New Zealand for its imports of milk powder. The country experienced a tainted milk scandal in 2008 that killed six babies and made about 300,000 ill.
According to Chinese state media, nearly 80% of dairy products imported by China come from New Zealand.
New Zealand is the world’s largest dairy exporter.
China has banned all imports of milk powder from New Zealand, after its main dairy exporter, Fonterra, found in some of its products a strain of bacteria that can cause botulism.
China relies on New Zealand for almost all its imports of milk powder.
Imports are highly prized in China after a tainted milk formula scandal in 2008 killed six babies and made some 300,000 infants sick.
New Zealand’s trade minister described Beijing’s decision as “appropriate”.
Fonterra’s announcement that it had found the contamination led to a global recall of up to 1,000 tonnes of dairy products across seven countries, including China.
The potentially tainted products included infant milk formula, sports drinks, protein drinks and other beverages.
Botulism is one of the most dangerous forms of food poisoning, often leading to paralysis.
The bacteria were found in three batches of Fonterra’s whey protein used in infants’ Nutricia Karicare follow-on formula, Fonterra said.
China has banned all imports of milk powder from New Zealand
Nearly 80% of dairy products imported by China come from New Zealand, according to state media.
Any prolonged ban of imports could well lead to a dairy shortage in China
New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said China’s action was “entirely appropriate”.
“It’s better to do blanket protection for your people then wind it back when we, our authorities, are in a position to give them the confidence and advice that they need.”
The Chinese authorities named four domestic companies that have imported potentially contaminated products from New Zealand. According to state media, these companies have begun a recall.
The whey product was produced in May 2012, with a dirty pipe at one of Fonterra’s processing plants in Waikato responsible for the contamination, the company said.
Fonterra – the fourth largest diary company in the world – said it had urged its customers to urgently check their supply chains.
The countries affected besides New Zealand and China include Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.
Russia is also reported to have begun a recall of Fonterra products.
Fonterra said there had been no reports of any illness linked to the affected whey product.
The dairy industry powers New Zealand’s economy, with the country exporting up to 95% of its milk.