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Fonterra promise 'full, thorough, formal review'

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings (left) and chairman John Wilson front a press conference into the company's Botulism scare. Photo / Richard Robinson
Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings (left) and chairman John Wilson front a press conference into the company's Botulism scare. Photo / Richard Robinson

Fonterra's board will conduct a "full, thorough, formal review'' into the handling of the infant formula contamination scandal, Fonterra chairman John Wilson said today.

Mr Wilson was fronting media for the first time since it was discovered a dirty pipe at Fonterra's Hautapu plant in Waikato might have contaminated three batches of a whey protein, known as WPC80, with the Clostridium botulinum bacteria.

Fonterra was now at the very last stages of getting the issue under control, he said.

"There are serious lessons that need to be learned from this.''

The review would be separate to the current operational investigation and would challenge every aspect of the process the board was now concluding, he said.

"We want to know not only how it happened, but why it happened. We want to make sure that it can't happen again.

"We want to take steps to build systems and procedures across our entire business and the global dairy supply chain to ensure we can learn from this experience and avoid putting consumers at risk.''

Mr Wilson said Fonterra was "deeply concerned'' by the anxiety caused by the debacle.

"On behalf of Fonterra, I want to apologise to the mums, the dads and the caregivers for any confusion that had been created over the last four or five days.

"I have confidence that Theo (Spierings) and his management team are continuing to do everything that they can, as quickly as they can.''

Mr Spierings, Fonterra's chief executive, said while the risk caused by the potentially contaminated baby formula was minute, it was a risk the cooperative could not take.

"Still, up until today there is no reported issues, there is no complaints.''

Fonterra's customers had full control of the situation and had contained potentially contaminated stock, Mr Spierings said.

He said he and Mr Wilson were planning to meet Government ministers in Wellington to front up on what was happening.

"The reputation of Fonterra is very important, the reputation of our customers is very important, but also the reputation of the country is very important.''

The past week had been a rollercoaster, he said.

"I still believe that last week the call we made, the decision I took, was the right thing to do,'' Mr Spierings said

In 2008, Fonterra were whistle-blowers in a big food safety issue, he said - referring to the Chinese melamine scandal.

This time around, they fronted up at the slightest hint of a problem with their own product, he said.

"We brought it to the table. What Chinese authorities, very high-level people, have assured me, `what you did - although very minute _ was that you came out, and you brought it to the table, you said there is a food safety risk'.

"It's one in millions, but we cannot take that risk,'' Mr Spierings said.

Health Minister Tony Ryall and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye confirmed today there had been no reported cases of infant botulism in New Zealand to date.

However, families with "any concerns whatsoever'' were advised to contact their GP or call Healthline or Plunketline.

"Plunketline and Healthline nurses have answered approximately 11,200 calls since Saturday,'' Mr Ryall said.

The Ministry of Primary Industries has recalled two infant formula products made from the potentially contaminated whey protein.

The recalled products are all batches Nutricia Karicare Stage 1 infant formula (0-6 months) and Nutricia Karicare Gold+ Stage 2 follow on formula (6-12 months).

- NZ Herald

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