Govt accepts WPC recommendations

09/12/2014

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says the government accepts all the recommendations of the report into last year’s whey protein concentrate incident.

“The rigour and conclusions of the report, as well as the actions of key players since the incident, should further strengthen confidence in New Zealand’s world class food safety system,” says Mr Guy.

The second report of the independent inquiry, headed by Miriam Dean QC, looks at how the potentially contaminated WPC entered the New Zealand and international markets, and how this was subsequently addressed.

“This is a very robust piece of analysis which makes some valuable recommendations for all parties involved. I am pleased a number are already in place or are being implemented,” says Mr Guy. 

“The report concludes that the Ministry for Primary Industries took the correct decisions in putting consumer interests and public health first, both in New Zealand and overseas, by adopting a precautionary approach,” says Mrs Goodhew.

“It recommends, among other things, that MPI works to finalise its single scalable response model and undertake regular exercises and simulations. We accept these recommendations and work is already well-advanced in these areas.

“MPI has already better aligned its structure, provided greater clarity on food safety responsibilities and accountabilities to key players, and put in place new governance processes.

“A Food Safety Law Reform Bill is being developed for introduction in 2015, and a Food Safety and Assurance Advisory Council is meeting quarterly.

“Working groups with industry representation are underway focusing on traceability and capability in the dairy sector. A Food Safety Science Centre is being established, and MPI has increased its presence in key overseas markets, including China,” says Mrs Goodhew.

“In addition to the funding provided by Government as part of its response to the Inquiry’s first report, we will be providing $7.9m over four years for MPI to strengthen its core food safety regulatory and operational capability,” says Mr Guy.

“The first part of the Inquiry reported back to the Government in December 2013. It concluded that New Zealand has a world class food safety system, and that the WPC incident was not the result of any failure in the regulatory system.

“It made 29 recommendations to the Government, all of which were accepted, and good progress has been made on implementing these.

“All parties involved in this incident have learnt valuable lessons, and have become stronger and better prepared for any future issues. We are aware of significant changes Fonterra has made to its processes and systems following the incident,” says Mr Guy.   

“We want to thank Miriam Dean QC who led the Inquiry, assisted by Tony Nowell and Dr Anne Astin, and Professor Alan Reilly as the independent peer reviewer.”

The full report is here.

Fonterra’s initial response to the incident was appalling.

However, the company learned from that and the government’s acceptance of this report’s recommendations will further strengthen food safety.

That is essential for both health and economic reasons when so much of our export income comes from food.


Food safety good but can be better

12/12/2013

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye say the government has accepted in principle all the 29 recommendations in the report on the first stage of the Government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate Contamination Incident.

“This part of the inquiry focused on our dairy food safety system and we are pleased to confirm it found the whey protein concentrate (WPC) incident in August this year (2013) was not the result of any failure in the regulatory system,” Mr Guy says.

“The inquiry report finds New Zealand’s food safety regulatory model is consistent with international principles and is among the best in the world,” Ms Kaye says.

“This is a finding of fundamental importance to reassure our off-shore markets,” Mr Guy says.

“The report was peer reviewed by an international expert in the structure and management of food safety systems, Professor Alan Reilly who heads the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. He confirmed he was satisfied with the quality and integrity of the inquiry’s report,” Ms Kaye says.

“The report makes a number of recommendations, most of which are about further strengthening the New Zealand food safety system for the challenges that lie ahead.”

“Exports to China have trebled since 2007. On top of that, food safety requirements and systems are continuing to evolve,” Mr Guy says.

“New Zealand’s export performance depends heavily on the success of the dairy sector and we are committed to ensuring its underpinning food safety system remains world-leading.”

The Government will allocate between $8-12 million per year for the following key recommendations:

  • Strengthening capability in emerging export markets, particularly China. Additional personnel are needed to support growing China trade. The Government has committed to an additional four people in China and six people in other international markets. The specific location of personnel will be agreed between the Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Food Safety, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Trade. The Government has committed an additional $4.430 million in 2014/15 rising to $8.295 million in 2017/18 and out-years to increase the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) presence overseas.
  • Establishing a centre of food safety science and research. This will bring together New Zealand government agencies and research organisations allowing for collaboration, including with overseas science centres. (At least an additional $5 million per year made up of contributions from Government and industry.)
  • Increasing dairy processing and regulatory capability. A working group will be set up to develop a strategic plan and this will see a further $1 million per year invested in dairy capability.
  • Establishing a food safety and assurance advisory council to provide high level independent advice and risk analysis. ($250,000 per year.)
  • Fast-tracking work to consolidate and simplify legislation and regulations. ($250,000 for 2014/15.)

“The inquiry report also recommends we fast-track the revision of New Zealand regulatory requirements for the manufacture of infant formula and work is already underway on this,” Ms Kaye says.

“This is a special work programme due to the vulnerability of babies and young children.

“Legislative change is required to meet some of the recommendations and we will be delivering some of that through the Food Bill, which we hope to pass as soon as possible next year. We are looking at aligning other food legislation with an omnibus bill in 2014,” Ms Kaye says.

“The inquiry findings and recommendations should renew confidence in New Zealand’s dairy food safety system,” Mr Guy says.

“We would like to thank the inquiry team, led by Miriam Dean CNZM QC, for completing this report within three months.”

This report released today is on Parts B and C of the Government’s inquiry and is separate to the compliance investigation being undertaken by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). Part A of the Government’s inquiry will look at the question of what happened and the regulator’s response.

In August, MPI indicated the compliance investigation would take three to six months to complete. Part A of the Government’s inquiry cannot be completed until that compliance investigation is completed.

Federated Farmers says the report says our food safety system ‘isn’t broke but needs a tune-up‘.

“Whilst the report puts some minds at ease, confirming the regulatory system is not to blame, it also highlights the need for a stronger food safety system and a stronger understanding of the markets we deal with,” says Willy Leferink, Federated Farmers Dairy Chairperson.

“If our dairy industry is to continue to go from strength to strength, we need to invest more into the framework of how we operate here and overseas. As we diversify into foreign markets, we need people that understand them.

“Before we get there we need to get things right at home. I am thrilled at the recommendations to simplify the regulatory processes and invest in more science and research. Food safety is paramount for the dairy industry and it has long been overdue that we put our money where our mouth is.

“This substantial investment of $8-12 million will go a long way to rebuilding our reputation overseas,” concluded Mr Leferink.

Our reputation for safe food is our biggest marketing advantage and people’s health depends on the reality matching the reputation.

We need the best system of regulating and enforcing food safety possible and these recommendations ought to ensure we have it.

A copy of the report can be found here.

A table of the recommendations and the government’s response is here.

 


No single cause

05/09/2013

When something goes badly wrong, everyone wants to pin the blame on someone or something.

However, often there isn’t a single person or thing at fault, but a series of mistakes and this is what Fonterra has found in the operational review in the wake of the debacle over the precautionary recall of products containing why protein concentrate.

In an email to shareholders, chair John Wilson said:

The Review found that there was not one single cause of the precautionary recall. It was the result of a number of separate and unrelated events occurring in an unforeseen sequence:

  • The decision to reprocess the original WPC80 and not downgrade the product, in combination with the use of an item of non-standard equipment, was the cause of the contamination.
  • A one-off lapse in information sharing across two parts of the business led to delays in testing.
  • This issue should have been escalated to CEO-level earlier.
  • A major upgrade of the computer systems at some of our sites immediately prior to the recall resulted in product tracing taking longer than it should have.
  • Although Fonterra has clearly established domestic and international product recall systems, the size and complexity of the WPC80 recall was a factor, particularly given the product had itself become an ingredient in the products of multiple customers.

Having established what went wrong, the company is determined to improve its practices to prevent a repeat of the problem.

Business Improvements
To help prevent an incident like this happening again, Fonterra will:

  • Ensure our world-class food production standards continue to be maintained at all times, across all sites, in areas such as quality control, testing, and product specifications.
  • Further increase the business’ focus on quality and safety across the end-to-end supply chain.
  • Increase transparency, internally and externally, to improve information flows and the speed of escalation. 
  • Ensure Fonterra strengthens its product recall and supply management systems which allow the tracing of all product that is in its control, and collaborates with customers on how to link different supply chains and quickly trace products.

The business is now making changes based on the lessons learned in this review, including:

  • Establishing the new role of Group Director of Food Safety and Quality reporting directly to the CEO.
  • Strengthening the remit and scope of the Food Integrity Council.
  • Launching an internal Food Safety and Quality Hotline for staff and contractors to escalate any concerns about potential food safety risks.
  • Quality audits have been completed at our sensitive nutritional plants, including Hautapu.
  • Comprehensive staff training on use of an upgraded computer to efficiently trace products across our entire supply chain has been completed.

Other actions to follow involve a review of any upcoming system changes, strengthening our crisis management capability, and reviewing our traceability systems in our global businesses.

The business is also introducing additional authorisation requirements for non-standard processing and testing, and conducting specialised audits of our global manufacturing plants and product quality standards.

We’ll also be looking to implement any findings from the Board’s independent inquiry.

Everything in our power is being done to rebuild absolute confidence in our processes and products, and to strengthen New Zealand’s already strong food safety and quality system – and make Fonterra even stronger for the future.

Now that tests have confirmed there was no botulism risk the company is being criticised for “crying wolf” but it was right to act when there was a risk that babies’ health might be at risk.

Food safety must always come first.

However, while the precautionary recall was necessary, so too was far better communication than the company provided.

Fonterra  did the right thing but it communicated what it was doing and why badly and that is where it let itself, its shareholders, customers and the country down.

Lessons learned from what went wrong must result in improved practices to prevent a repeat and far better communication if there is another problem.


What went wrong at AgResearch?

29/08/2013

AgResearch isn’t very popular in the south following the announcement of its proposal to relocate most of its activities from Invermay to Lincoln.

It won’t be very popular with Fonterra, MPI, government or anyone else caught up with the fallout from the botulism scare now it’s been found it was responsible for the test which showed the possible botulism contamination in a batch of Fonterra’s whey protein concentrate.

Subsequent tests – all 195 of them – have contradicted that and shown that the WPC was safe.

AgResearch has issued a media release saying:

A spokesperson for AgResearch said: “We have today received correspondence from Fonterra in relation to testing carried out by AgResearch for Fonterra.

“Under the terms of our contract with Fonterra, we are bound by a confidentiality agreement and cannot discuss specific details.

“However, we have reviewed our work and we are confident in the work that our experts carried out and reported to Fonterra.

“Both the Government and Fonterra are conducting investigations into the issues and we are involved in these inquiries.

“We have also sought to discuss the concerns raised today directly with Fonterra and we are engaged with MPI regarding these developments.”

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings said while there is a sense of shared relief that the product was not contaminated, Fonterra had done the right thing by initiating a precautionary recall.

“Food safety remains our number one priority.

“The original results from AgResearch indicated the presence of toxin-producing Clostridium botulinum in the affected whey protein concentrate and we could therefore not take any chances,” he said.

Fonterra originally commissioned independent testing from Crown Research Institute, AgResearch, as one of only two research facilities in New Zealand capable of carrying out testing for Clostridium botulinum.

“On the basis of the results we received from the AgResearch tests, we had no choice but to alert regulators, and announce a global precautionary recall with our customers.

“We have just learned of the further and definitive test results. While we share a sense of relief about them, this in no way lessens our commitment to undertaking a thorough review into what happened, and to learn from this experience.”

Mr Spierings acknowledged there had been confusion and anxiety arising from the complexity of the precautionary recall and apologised for it.

“The past few weeks have been very difficult for parents in a number of countries, as well as for our customers, our farmers, and our staff.
“For me, as Fonterra’s CEO and as a father of three children, I truly believe that in initiating the recall, we took the right decision and did the right thing at the most critical moment. Given the same circumstances, and with food safety always front of mind, I would do the same again.

“Food safety and quality must always remain our top priority. I have created a new role of Group Director, Food Safety and Quality that reports directly to me.  Fonterra already has world-class food safety systems, and we’ll make sure that our dedication to food safety is further embedded in everything we do.

“The news today does not affect the various reviews and inquiries underway. We are committed to learning from, and sharing, any findings about how we can improve. We will do this in an open and transparent way,” Mr Spierings said.

There will be lessons for AgResearch too.


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