March 11, 2015


New Zealand responds to new threat to dairy industry



The New Zealand government announced late Wednesday it has made it illegal for anyone to possess high purity 1080, a pesticide used in agriculture, without approval, following the revelation of a threat from an anonymous blackmailer to poison the nation's infant formula products.


Earlier on Tuesday, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key assured his nation and the rest of the world that infant formula manufactured in his country was safe, more than three months after someone, who has remained unidentified, had threatened to poison the products to protest the use of the pesticide 1080.  


Key's assurance was prompted by increasing media enquiries and the blackmailer's threat to go public by the end of March, but the announcement ignited fears of a backlash against New Zealand's dairy industry.


Radio New Zealand on Wednesday night reported that the new regulatory change was signed by New Zealand Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae on Tuesday night to tighten up security of high purity 1080, making it easier to track the distribution and use of the poison.


Possession of the 1080 pellets used to kill possums, however, is not illegal.


Environment Minister Nick Smith said the regulation would make 1080 the most tightly regulated poison in New Zealand, adding that it would hopefully reduce the risk of the poison getting into criminal hands.


Letter threat


In late November, the Federated Farmers of New Zealand and Fonterra - the world's largest exporter of dairy products and New Zealand's biggest company--each received a letter threatening to contaminate New Zealand infant formula if 1080 was not banned by the end of March.


Together with the letter was a package containing baby formula tainted with a concentrated form of 1080, which is used to control pests including rats and possums.


In assuring the safety of his country's infant formula products, the Prime Minister on Tuesday said, "We are advised it is extremely unlikely anyone could deliberately contaminate formula during the manufacturing process and there is no evidence that this has ever occurred. While it is very likely this threat is a hoax, we as the government have to take it seriously and I can assure you that we are".


Use of 1080


Federated Farmers president Dr. William Rolleston said the use of 1080 "is both a vital and safe means of controlling the spread of bovine tuberculosis between New Zealand dairy herds".

"The significant reduction in bovine Tb incidence over recent years shows 1080 is very effective, while its use has had minimal impact on non-target species", he explained.


The Ministry for Public Affairs (MPI) also said that New Zealand infant formula "is as safe today as it was before the recent blackmail threat was made. We've taken steps so you can feel confident about continuing to use formula".


"The ability for anybody to deliberately contaminate infant and other formula during manufacturing is extremely low. Regardless, we encourage people to be vigilant when buying infant and other formula. Our advice is always to check packaging for signs of tampering. We are reinforcing that advice as a result of this blackmail threat", MPI Deputy Director-General Scott Gallacher said on Tuesday.


In a statement Tuesday, Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings also said, "We can fully assure our customers and consumers that all of our milk and products are safe and of high quality, and our supply chain continues to be secure and world-class".


New Zealand treats with the utmost urgency any threat to the safety of its dairy industry, which drives the nation's economy.

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