Farmers break silence on infant formula scare

FEDERATED Farmers has broken its silence over the infant formula contamination scare, saying there will be a reckoning but now is not the time.

The farmers advocacy organisation has so far let Fonterra and the Ministry for Primary Industries deal with the problem, which has caused mass recalls of Fonterra's dairy products and tarnished New Zealand's 100% Pure image overseas.

Federated Farmers dairy chairman Willy Leferink said the discovery of Clostridium botulinum in a batch of whey protein concentrate, used in infant formula and other products, was "the laboratory equivalent of a needle in a haystack".

" ... What we need to remember is that the volume involved is a fraction of the 2.5 million tonnes Fonterra produces each year."

Nonetheless, he said he appreciated that was cold comfort right now.

"Farms are the first link in the production chain because what we produce is collected and processed under strict sanitary standards.

"If there is any break in this pasture to plate chain then product does not go, or rather, that is how things are meant to work."

Sources have called for heads to roll at Fonterra over the scare, but Mr Leferink said now was not the time to think about that.

"We are here because of that single unsanitary pipe at Fonterra's Hautapu factory. There will be a reckoning but now is not the time; the 'who, what, why, when, where and how' questions come later. Right now we owe it to our consumers here and abroad to give them facts and not speculation. We owe it to them to communicate truthfully and in a format they will understand."

Mr Leferink said the most important think now was for communication channels to be kept open between the Ministry for Primary Industries as the regulator, Fonterra as the processor and the companies who used potentially contaminated product.

"Our only priority must be food safety and the integrity of what we export. Integrity is communicating facts openly and transparently and this is thankfully happening."