WELLINGTON: A botulism scare that sparked global recalls of Fonterra milk products was a false alarm and there was never any danger to the public, New Zealand officials said Wednesday.
The crisis led to infant formula being taken off shelves from China to Saudi Arabia earlier this month and damaged New Zealand's "clean, green" reputation in key Asian markets.
But New Zealand's Ministry of Primary Industries said a barrage of tests ordered after it sounded the alarm had confirmed the bug was clostridium sporogenes and not the potentially fatal clostridium botulinum, as originally indicated.
"It is therefore not capable of producing botulism-causing toxins," the ministry said in a statement.
"There are no known food-safety issues associated with clostridium sporogenes, although at elevated levels certain strains may be associated with food spoilage."
It said the initial tests that incorrectly pointed to botulism contamination were carried out by Fonterra and the ministry ordered a further 195 tests to check the findings, none of which came back positive for the bacteria.
"We sought additional testing at both local and international laboratories, seeking the most robust results we could get. Scientists used a range of methods -- all came back negative for clostridium botulinum,"
The dairy industry accounts for about a quarter of New Zealand's exports and ministry acting director-general Scott Gallacher said officials were right to issue a public warning early.
"We needed to act on what we knew at that time," he said. "The information we had then said there was a food-safety risk to consumers and we moved quickly to address it."
He said the ministry had informed overseas regulators about the test results and had recalled its public warning about the potential botulism risk from some Fonterra products.