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New Zealand’s Parliament advances food safety reform bill

Three years after a major botulism scare involving whey protein concentrate used in infant formula and other food products, New Zealand’s parliament has unanimously passed the first reading of the Food Safety Law Reform Bill.

New Zealand Food Safety Minister Jo Goodhew said in a statement issued Wednesday that the legislation was important both for consumer health and for the country’s international trade reputation. She noted that foods and beverages account for about 60 percent of the total amount of merchandise exported by New Zealand every year.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-wellington-new-zealand-image11870198“It is vital that we do all we can to protect our reputation as a supplier of safe and suitable food, both domestically and internationally, by ensuring all steps have been taken to address the recommendations of the independent inquiry,” Goodhew said.

She was referring to the 2014 Whey Protein Inquiry. Known in New Zealand as the “WPC80 Incident,” the final report, released in November of that year, made 29 recommendations to enhance the country’s dairy food safety regulatory system.

The recommendations included establishing a high-level risk registry to identify major threats to dairy food safety and supply, strengthening testing and recall procedures, setting up a national center for food safety science and research, and instituting a system to increase collaboration and program reevaluation among food safety regulators.

The current bill aims to standardize enforcement tools from the recently passed Food Act into the Animal Products and Wine Acts. Risk-based plans will be registered with regulators and traceability tools will be enhanced, according to reports.

The next step for the legislation is public comment, and Goodhew noted that submissions will be accepted within the next few weeks.

WPC80 started when Auckland-based Fonterra Cooperative Group, one of the world’s largest producers of dairy products, recalled 38 tons of concentrated whey produced in 2012 and stored in a warehouse before being sold abroad.

Initial tests in July 2013 indicated the presence of Clostridium botulinum, although no illnesses were reported. Followup tests revealed that the bacteria were actually Clostridium sporogenes, which can cause food spoilage but not botulism.

The incident drew harsh criticism from China, which temporarily banned milk powder imported from both New Zealand and Australia, and it resulted in secondary recalls from Danone, Minute Maid and other firms. The head of Fonterra’s milk products division subsequently resigned.

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