New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra has pleaded guilty to four food-safety
violations following a botulism
scare last year.
Government officials earlier in the day filed charges accusing the world's
largest dairy exporter of processing and exporting products in a way that
didn't meet standards, and then failing to notify officials quickly enough when
it became aware of the lapses.
Maury Leyland, a Fonterra manager, said the company immediately filed guilty
pleas to all charges.
Fonterra faces a maximum fine of 500 000 New Zealand dollars.
Global recall of infant formula
The botulism scare sparked a global recall of infant
but turned out to be a false alarm. It came after the company
processed whey protein concentrate in dirty pipes in one of its factories in
the North Island's Waikato district.
Initial tests indicated the presence of botulism bacteria in the concentrate
but later tests found it to be another, less harmful bacteria.
Leyland, who led an internal operational review following the incident, said
the company was implementing procedures to try to prevent similar problems in
"It was a serious event, but it was one event," Leyland said.
"It comes against a backdrop of years of supplying high-quality product
and high-quality food to the world."
The scare in New Zealand was treated with the urgency of a national
emergency. That's because the dairy industry drives the economy and companies
like Fonterra are able to command a premium in the country's biggest export
market, China, because of their reputation for providing high-quality products.
Fonterra is a cooperative owned by 10 500 farmers that enjoys a near-monopoly
on New Zealand milk. It has annual revenues of more than $15 billion.
The charges and guilty pleas come the week before New Zealand Prime Minister
John Key is scheduled to visit China. Part of his mission there will be to try
and reassure Chinese officials about the quality of New Zealand's farm
The botulism scare didn't appear to dent China's growing appetite for New
Zealand milk. Statistics New Zealand reported exports of New Zealand dairy and meat
products rose by 18% in the December 2013 quarter when compared to the previous
safety from farm to table
usage affecting food safety