Fonterra products free of botulism, says New Zealand

The BBC's Jon Donnison: "A sigh of relief for the New Zealand government"

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New Zealand has said that Fonterra products at the centre of a global contamination scare did not contain botulism-causing bacteria.

The scare had triggered a recall and import bans from some countries.

However, the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries said tests suggested the presence of a different type of bacteria that does not cause botulism.

Fonterra is the biggest dairy firm in New Zealand, which is the world's largest exporter of dairy products.

"The bacteria found in the whey protein concentrate (WPC) manufactured by Fonterra is not Clostridium botulinum," the ministry said in a statement.

"The organism is confirmed as Clostridium sporogenes. It is therefore not capable of producing botulism-causing toxins."

Key sector

Earlier this month, Fonterra had said that some of its products were contaminated by a dirty pipe at one of its processing plants.

The discovery led to inquiries into the contamination, including one by Prime Minister John Key, and triggered concerns about the impact on New Zealand's dairy sector.

Dairy exports account for about a quarter of New Zealand's export earnings and the dairy industry contributes about 7% of the country's gross domestic product.

Fonterra accounts for almost 90% of the country's milk production.

The scare about its products led to import bans by China and some other countries.

Fonterra's operations at a plant in Sri Lanka's commercial hub, Colombo, had been closed because of concerns about the welfare of its 755 local employees.

This followed protests near the company's offices, with demonstrators accusing Fonterra of selling contaminated milk products.

However, Fonterra said on Wednesday that operations had resumed, as the situation had "stabilised".

The company has also faced criticism for delays in disclosing the contamination. Earlier this month the head of its New Zealand milk products, Gary Romano, quit the firm.

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