Friday, August 9, 2013

Fonterra and Govt ministers at odds over apology - TVNZ

updated 18:18

Published: 2:07PM Friday August 09, 2013 Source: ONE News

Fonterra has confirmed it sent potentially contaminated whey to a Palmerston North school to use in a science project.

The diary giant said this afternoon there was no health risk to the students from Palmerston North Girls' High who drank drinks containing the product.

Fonterra visited the school today to work with the principal and teachers as they informed students and parents about the whey protein concentrate provided to the school.

The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health have also been involved in supporting the school.

Fonterra Chief Technology Officer Jeremy Hill said a 12 kilogram bag of some potentially affected whey protein concentrate was provided to the school in February 2013 for a science project.

Palmerston North Girls' High School principal, Melba Scott, said the project finished in April 2013 and there have been no reports of ill health.

Mr Hill said the processes involved in manufacturing beverages make the resulting products safe to drink.

"There is absolutely no risk to any of the pupils," he said.

Beehive showdown

A Beehive showdown between Fonterra bosses and senior ministers has done little to clear up misunderstandings arising from the botulism scare.

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings and chairman John Wilson attended this morning's meeting and the dairy giant says it did not apologise to the Government.

However, ministers believe they heard an 'I'm sorry'.

"It's fair to say the meeting wasn't a meeting for him (Spierings) to tell us that everything was fine and for us to say thanks very much," Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said.

Fonterra denies saying sorry to ministers for thrusting them into an international crisis, with Mr Spierings saying when a company employs thousands of people and operates 32 factories, mistakes are made.

Today's meeting was purely to update ministers and the issue of compensation for the Government was not raised, Mr Spierings said.

"We're disappointed, they're disappointed and that's where we left it," he said.

But Ministers in the room appear to have heard an apology.

"They were sorry for what had occurred," Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said.

And Mr Joyce claims "they said they were sorry".

The timeline for the alert

Mr Spierings says lab tests raised the alarm on Wednesday July 31; he got first information of the lab results on  August 1 and the food safety question was answered on August 2.

Following today's meeting, Mr Spierings told reporters that as soon as a food safety risk emerged, the decision to raise the alert was made.

"Within 24 hours everybody was informed, including the public, including our customers, including Government," he said.

But Mr Guy said ministers have "some concerns in particular to do with the timeline".

There is also confusion over exactly when the Government was told. Mr Spierings claims it was Friday evening while Mr Guy said he got a call on Friday afternoon from the acting director general who had been told Friday lunch time.

It is a vital detail because Fonterra did not tell the public about the botulism scare for another 12 hours, issuing a statement just before 1am Saturday.

Four looming investigations into the handling of the contamination saga are expected to provide answers with the Government set to announce details of its own inquiry on Monday.

Meanwhile Mr Spierings appeared to rule out compensating the milk powder product wholesalers.

"They are multi-national companies we have long-term contracts with them, those contracts are very clear."

Mr Spierings said there have been no complaints or confirmed health issues or reports as a result of the issue and at this stage no disciplinary action will be taken against staff in charge of the factory.

Copyright © 2013, Television New Zealand Limited. Breaking and Daily News, Sport & Weather | TV ONE, TV2 | Ondemand


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