Fonterra recalls own calf-feeding formula as botulism scare deepens

Fonterra, New Zealand’s largest company, has announced the first withdrawal of one of its own brands from the market, a cow’s milk replacement formula for feeding calves and not for human consumption, as global coverage of a botulism food scare widens.

The news comes as the New Zealand government mobilises a 60-strong team of diplomats and food safety and health ministry officials to deal with the local and global fallout from Fonterra’s admission yesterday that eight global customers in six countries had received an infant formula additive containing bacteria that causes botulism, perhaps as long as 14 months ago.

International media reports also suggest that Russia has banned all New Zealand dairy imports, including fresh products which are known not to be affected by the inclusion of 38 tonnes of contaminated whey protein powder in both export and local deliveries for use in infant formula and sports drinks.

The Chinese food safety authority, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, has ordered products containing Fonterra ingredients off supermarket shelves in China, and the issue has made the front page of the Financial Times website and is being reported throughout Australian, Asian, and global media, including Al Jazeera, the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian.

Much of batch of WPC80 concentrate was shipped after manufacture in May last year to eight customers in six countries: Australia, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Viet Nam, Trade Minister Tim Groser revealed this weekend. Such products are widely exported within Asia.

No food manufacturer for human consumption has yet announced a product recall, although Fonterra indicated its notification was a trigger for customers to consider such a move.

The announcement is potential bombshell for the country’s all-important dairy industry.

The food safety scare is the third to have caught Fonterra since a scandal in 2008, when the adulteration of raw milk by Chinese dairy farmers with a chemical, melamine, caused deaths and serious illness for thousands of Chinese children. Fonterra owned 43 percent of SanLu, which closed down because of the disaster.

Today, Fonterra said it was recalling “a very small amount of calf milk replacer”, sold only in the North Island of New Zealand, despite a risk described by Fonterra Veterinarian Lindsay Burton as “very small.”

Fonterra subsidiary NZAgriBiz was “right not to compromise on safety standards, and to advise customers who may have the affected product to return it to the place of purchase,” said Burton in a statement.

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings is due in China for talks with affected customers of Fonterra, the world’s largest exporter of dairy products, many of the largest of whom are in China.

No Fonterra brand product has been affected, and fresh cheese, milk, and yoghurt are unaffected.

Trade Minister Tim Groser today described the situation as “very serious” and vowed attention in the first instance on the health of “the little babies” potentially affected, before turning to questions of blame.

In New Zealand, Nutricia Karicare Infant Formula Stage 1 (0-6 months) with batch numbers 3169 and 3170 was recalled today, after Karicare Gold+ Follow On Formula Stage 2 (6-12 months), with batch number D3183 was recalled.

Batch numbers are on the base of the tin.

Fonterra found on July 31 it had the bacteria clostridium botulinum in a batch of 38 tonnes of product made in May last year. The first signs of contamination appeared in March, when Fonterra retested the previously tested and approved batch. Further testing took until July 31, at which point authorities and customers began to be notified, followed the news media and general public , three days later.


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