Govt inquiry to probe food contamination, regulatory best practice

A joint ministerial inquiry into the Fonterra Cooperative Group food scare will look at how the dairy exporter's contamination occurred and whether the country's regulatory regime is up to scratch, but won't touch on questions of liability or the legislative structure of the dairy sector.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye today released the draft terms of the government's inquiry into the whey protein contamination, and appointed former Russell McVeagh partner Miriam Dean QC to head the probe.

The first part of the investigation will look at how the tainted food entered the supply chain and the response and the second part will focus on regulatory and best practice requirements, the ministers said in a statement.

"This will provide the answers needed to the questions that have been raised about this incident, both domestically and internationally," Guy said. "It is also an important step in reassuring our trading partners that we take these issues seriously."

The announcement of the inquiry's terms comes after another food scare emerged, this time at Westland Milk, where unacceptable nitrate levels were found in four consignments of lactoferrin.

The inquiry will report on and make recommendations on the adequacy of legal and best practice requirements on diagnostics, traceability, reporting, implementation of food safety standards, contingency planning and the regulatory response. It will also look at any changes necessary to prevent another food scare.

The probe won't cross over into a Ministry for Primary Industries investigation on whether any legal or regulatory breaches occurred, and isn't tasked with testing whether any questions of liability arise. The government has also excluded the legislative structure of the dairy industry from the probe.

Fonterra is also holding two separate inquiries, one led by its board and an internal probe.

(BusinessDesk)