|Red faced New Zealand questions own food safety regime after milk food testing fiasco
New Zealand, which has taken battering worldwide over its “100 percent pure’’ claims, is struggling to find answers as to how an inaccurate test by a government agency triggered a botulism bacteria scare involving diary heavyweight Fonterra.
The company was forced into global product recalls. Countries including Russia banned imports of Fonterra milk food early this month.
Opposition politicians in the country say the government labs are not world class.
Labour Party primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor told the New Zealand Herald that the botched lab tests were a “complete systems failure by the Ministry for Primary Industries.’’
New Zealand admitted Wednesday that subsequent tests had proved the contaminant was in fact a bacterium called clostridium sporogenes that in higher levels may cause food spoilage.
“The whole thing's been an embarrassment to New Zealand,'' Trade Minister Tim Groser told Radio New Zealand, as the opposition accused his government of overseeing a “botulism botch-up.’’
“I've never tried to conceal the fact that it was going to cost us – the question was always 'how long, how much?’’’
Groser said it was important to prevent a recurrence of such mistakes.
“The consequences of this particular false positive have been very grave and we want answers as to why on earth this happened,'' Groser said.
Fonterra said Wednesday the initial test that incorrectly detected a botulism bacteria and sparked the crisis was done by AgResearch, a government agency.
The Ministry for Primary Industries said it was too early to draw any conclusions about the quality of AgResearch's laboratory testing.
The opposition Labour Party said the government had failed to ensure New Zealand's food testing and monitoring labs were world-class.
“This fiasco continues to be a disaster for our clean, green brand. The inability of the ministry's systems means our reputation is always at risk,'' said Labour’s O'Connor.
Infant formula maker Nutricia, which recalled its Karicare brand product because it used Fonterra whey powder, said the belated all-clear vindicated its own testing regime, which had never shown any sign of botulism.
Managing director Corine Tap said the scare had been an “awful time'' for the company and parents. She said legal action may be considered.—AFP/The Standard