NEW ZEALAND - The New Zealand government inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) Contamination Incident that occurred in August last year is expected to conclude in November.
The incident was the biggest food safety scare in New Zealand’s history and followed a suspicion that infant formula and possibly other products were infected with botulism-causing Clostridium botulinum.
The source of the suspected contamination was whey protein concentrate made by dairy co-operative Fonterra, the output of which constitutes nearly 90 per cent of the country’s dairy production.
Three weeks later, two United States laboratories confirmed the whey protein concentrate had never posed any food safety risk.
But that news came too late to prevent widespread concern among parents and caregivers, as well as significant economic harm and damage to reputations.
The impact was particularly significant in relation to infant formula, an area of growing importance for New Zealand, with an estimated $1 billion worth of exports per year.
Now, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy (pictured) and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye have received a letter from the head of the inquiry that outlines the timescale for the future of the investigation.
The letter says: “The Inquiry has considered the time that will be needed to report, taking into account the work already undertaken by the Ministry for Primary Industries and Fonterra investigations, the number and nature of the issues arising from the Terms of Reference; the number of participants; volume of material; and the need for fairness to all participants.
“Our preliminary advice has been that six to nine months would be an appropriate estimate. However, conscious of the need to resolve matters promptly, and in anticipation of full cooperation from all participants, the Inquiry’s present estimate is that it will require until Friday 28 November 2014 (six months) to present its final report. Participants with whom the Inquiry has consulted have accepted this is a realistic estimate."
“The first stage of the Inquiry explored regulations and policies relating to food safety events in New Zealand and how these could be strengthened. The second stage of the Inquiry will examine how the potentially contaminated whey protein concentrate entered the New Zealand and international markets and the subsequent response,” said Mr Guy.
This part of the Inquiry could not begin until the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) compliance investigation was complete, sentencing had occurred, and the appeal period had expired.
“Following the first stage of the Inquiry, which found that New Zealand’s food safety system is world leading, Ministers want the Inquiry to report back on the final stage of its work as quickly as possible. We have received advice from the Chair that she expects the Inquiry to conclude its work by Friday November 28 this year and we have accepted that date,” said Ms Kaye.
The Government’s inquiry is headed by Miriam Dean CNZM QC, assisted by Tony Nowell CNZM and Dr Anne Astin PSM and includes independent peer reviewer Professor Alan Reilly, Chief Executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
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