Fonterra has "cast a shadow" across the rest of New Zealand's dairy export industry and should have immediately identified which of its customers were caught up in its botulism scare, says Auckland Chamber of Commerce boss Michael Barnett.
When revealing concerns early on Saturday that three batches of whey concentrate appeared to contain bacteria that could cause botulism, a Fonterra spokesperson declined to identify the eight customers it believed could be impacted. Fonterra named most of these customers over the weekend and defended its decision not to identify those affected immediately.
However, Barnett said yesterday the dairy co-operative should have been more upfront from the start.
"You can make a really good argument and say, 'They are our customers, that's where we hold our loyalty to', and on one side they [Fonterra] could be correct," Barnett said. "But in the big game they're not. In the big game, it's about the consumers in China and in the big game it's about who was the product supplied to, who's at risk."
By not revealing the affected customers, Barnett said Fonterra and the Ministry of Primary Industries "cast a shadow across the whole of the industry" which was probably unnecessary.
"I think for a large number of exporters - including Fonterra and some Fonterra brands themselves - there's a whole lot of product out there that's been tainted because it's got the New Zealand name on it."
As well as this, Barnett said the Government now had to answer whether the 2010 merger of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry had weakened the food safety monitoring and testing process.
"We've gone through with the merger, we've probably done it on sound economic grounds as in costs, but ... have we starved these organisations of technical expertise?"
Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye said she had utmost confidence in the Ministry for Primary Industries, which was equipped to deal with any potential food safety issues.