NEW ZEALAND – A blackmail threat to poison infant milk formula with a pest control toxin known as 1080 has heightened food safety vigilance in New Zealand.
Farmers have been threatened with infant formula tampering in March unless the chemical, used in TB and pest control, is banned.
Police and food safety officials responded quickly to the threat. Meanwhile, the government has stood by the use of animal and plant control chemical sodium monoflouroacetate.
Last week, Federated Farmers received packages of formula containing 1080 and threats to compromise the infant formula supply chain. This followed anonymous letters received last November by Federated Farmers and dairy cooperative Fonterra calling for a ban on the pest control chemical by March 2015, threatening formula tampering if a ban was not forthcoming.
The chemical 1080 is used to combat tuberculosis in cattle and deer, as well as protecting New Zealand’s biodiversity, said the government.
“1080 is a critical tool for the pest control needed to protect New Zealand's native plants and wildlife,” said a government press release.
“1080 is currently the best option available to land managers to protect large areas of forest and native wildlife from possums, rats, stoats, and the diseases they spread.”
The government has reassured that there is no risk posed to consumers by the threat.
Reports suggest the public and trading countries have taken the news well. As of Friday, police had received 68 contacts from members of the public regarding the incident. Ongoing retailer checks intend to have visited with all dairies and shops within the coming weeks.
Speaking at a press hearing on Friday, Scott Gallagher, director general of the Ministry for Primary Industries called the incident a “criminal blackmail threat”.
He said the buyers of infant formula, both domestically and overseas, had reacted to the situation in a “calm” manner.
Increased security and vigilance measures had given customers the reassurance that “any New Zealand infant formula is as safe now as it was before the threat,” he added.
Mr Gallagher said: “We continue to work positively and constructively with all of our trading partners.”
Police Deputy Commissioner, Mike Clement, also speaking on Friday, said he was “heartened by the response” of the public.
“Police in all districts have been progressively visiting dairies and other small retailers who sell infant and other formula on behalf of the MPI," said Mr Clement.
"As of this morning we have visited 253 types of small business – dairies, service stations and some pharmacies."
In a statement, Fonterra said: “Fonterra Co-operative Group Limited acknowledges the announcement by the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Government about an investigation into a criminal threat relating to the Government’s use of Sodium monofluoroacetate (1080) poison as pest control to protect the country’s native flora and fauna.”
“We can fully assure our customers and consumers that all of our milk and products are safe and of high quality,” said Fonterra Chief Executive, Theo Spierings. “Our supply chain continues to be secure and world-class. We are playing our part in helping the Government manage the criminal threat, as is the rest of the dairy industry.
“We have taken immediate and decisive steps to give our customers and consumers added confidence – including increased testing and security measures.”