New Zealand Dairy Producer Scare Reveals No Botulism

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Government-initiated testing contradicts prior findings

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, August 28, 2013) – The New Zealand milk powder product at the centre of a global contamination scare did not contain a bacteria that causes botulism and there was never any risk to the public.

The country's Ministry for Primary Industries has received test results that confirm the bacteria found in the whey protein concentrate manufactured by Fonterra, was not the potentially fatal, botulism-causing, clostridium botulinum.

It said that instead, the bacteria found was clostridium sporogenes, which may be associated with food spoilage at elevated levels.

Initial tests carried out by the New Zealand government agency AgResearch on behalf of Fonterra, pointed to botulism contamination, which led to a further 195 tests being carried out.

"We sought additional testing at both local and international laboratories, seeking the most robust results we could get. Scientists used a range of methods - all came back negative for clostridium botulinum," acting MPI director General Scott Gallacher said.

Fonterra's Chief Executive, Theo Spierings, expressed relief at the latest findings.

"Food safety remains our number one priority. The original results from AgResearch indicated the presence of toxin-producing Clostridium botulinum in the affected whey protein concentrate and we could therefore not take any chances," Mr. Spierings said.

He says it's too early to say whether the dairy giant is considering legal action against AgResearch, given its test results triggered a mass global recall and severely damaged Fonterra's international reputation.

But he apologised for the confusion and anxiety caused by the product recall.

"I truly believe that in initiating the recall, we took the right decision and did the right thing at the most critical moment. Given the same circumstances, and with food safety always front of mind, I would do the same again," he said.

The ministry's Scott Gallacher agreed that officials were right to issue a public warning early.

"We needed to act on what we knew at that time," he said.

"The information we had then said there was a food-safety risk to consumers and we moved quickly to address it."

Fonterra has said that the contaminated whey protein concentrate was caused by a dirty pipe at one of its processing plants in New Zealand.

The contamination scare triggered a recall of Fonterra products that may have contained the whey protein in a number of countries around the world, including China and Australia.

It also prompted bans on Fonterra products in Russia and Sri Lanka.

The New Zealand government has now informed overseas regulators about the test results and has recalled its public warning on Fonterra products.

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