Fonterra’s Spierings ‘regrets stress and anxiety’ caused by whey contamination

Fonterra Cooperative Group chief executive Theo Spierings has expressed regret at a Chinese media conference for consumer anxiety caused by revelations that batches of whey protein had been contaminated.

The conference was broadcast live on the Reuters livestation website and translated into Chinese. The three contaminated batches were used in the manufacture of infant formula and sports drinks.

“We regret the distress and anxiety which this issue could have caused,” Spierings said. “Parents have the right to know that infant nutrition and other products are safe.”

The head of the world’s biggest dairy exporter said Fonterra has three key priorities: public health and food safety; working quickly with customers and regulators to resolve the issue; and working with customers and regulators to take corrective action.

The company’s commitment to China “is very high” and there is a “very strong relationship not only of Fonterra but also the New Zealand government.”

“It is very important for me to be here in person to reassure the republic of China,” he said.

Fonterra first detected the contamination in March and conducted extensive testing to determine the exact type of bacteria, because there were more than 100 strains and not all caused food safety risks, he said. The final identification was made on July 31 that it was a bacteria that can cause botulism at which point Fonterra informed the eight affected customers and the New Zealand government, he said.

Separately today, Fonterra said it had received confirmation from the Ministry for Primary Industries that China had not imposed a blanket ban on its products.

Chinese authorities had “temporarily suspended importation of whey powder and dairy base powder (a whey based dairy ingredient used in the manufacture of infant formula) produced by Fonterra, or produced in Australia using Fonterra’s whey protein powder as an ingredient (including whey protein concentrate),” it said in a statement.

Whole and skim milk powder had not been suspended, it said. China had increased inspection and supervision at the border for New Zealand dairy products, and indicated extra testing may be required.

The dairy company said only products using the WPC80 protein as an ingredient are affected, and that doesn’t include any products sold on its GlobalDairyTrade platform or any Fonterra-branded consumer products. The latest GDT dairy auction is set to be held overnight on Tuesday night.

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