‘Human errors in life happen’ – Fonterra


Absolutely.  They do.

The big difference is how we act after these errors are discovered.

Right now I think Fonterra have been shown a huge amount of patience to allow them to explain exactly what is going on, how it came about, what they have done since, and what they will do from here on in.

That’s ignoring the fact that they have been on this issue since March.

Instead we get this

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings says it is too early to point the finger at what went wrong or why, as fallout continues from the contamination of some of its products.

Briefing local media on a conference call from Beijing yesterday, Mr Spierings says the co-operative is first focusing on consumer health and containing the situation.

They’re hiding behind the “we’re concerned about health” line for days now, and even then they can’t tell us exactly what products are affected.

Here’s my prediction:  Once the dust has settled, it will be discovered that their QA systems and record keeping aren’t up to scratch.  Anyone who has worked in consumer food production industries knows about the requirements and importance of batch control and being able to trace all the ingredients and final output.

The alternative is worse.  If their QA and batch control is just fine, and they know exactly what’s going on, then they are sitting on a problem so big (I’m thinking near-total recall of all product), that the option of coming clean simply isn’t available to them.

One of Whaloil’s Rules of Politics will apply here: It is never the original mistake that takes you down. It is always the attempt at covering it up.

Russia banning all products seemed like a pretty over-the-top reaction a few days ago, but in the context of a company that can’t even come up with answers to the basic question: “Please tell us all the products that are affected”, perhaps Russia’s response wasn’t that extreme after all.


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  • conwaycaptain

    As I commented on The Huddle section we are paying MEGA BUCKS for NUMPTIES to run these organisations and they cannot organise a piss up in a brewery.
    The problem we have throughout industry now is that far too many of these “managers” have no practical experience. School, Uni and then into some “consultant” role and then run a company. No practical on the job experience or training.
    The whole thing is now run by MBAs (Masters of Bugger All)

    • Col

      Practical, so bloody true, forget the theory, to much of that these days.

    • Jman

      Well this simply isn’t true. To get into a good MBA course you have to have a number of years of actual managerial experience. For example the average age of a person doing a University of Auckland Business school MBA is 40. The people at Fonterra have clearly handled this badly but using that situation to have a nonsensical rant at “management” makes you sound like a union thug.

      • conwaycaptain

        Sorry it is not a nonsensical rant. In my LONG and varied career I have seen these “Management” experts arrive and depart usually leaving a mess behind them. Never speaking to people on the shop floor at all as it is beneath them.
        Have had dealing with a LARGE international publisher with a an MBA directing operations and it has been a DISASTER.
        These people are paid MEGA Bucks and what do we get???

        • Jman

          I’m sure anyone who has had a long and varied career in anything has seen good managers and bad managers just as they’ve seen good shop-floor workers and bad shop-floor workers and so on. Companies that hire bad employees whether in management or on the shop floor tend to not do so well, as Fonterra is probably about to find out. That’s the free market. Try to keep it real.

          • Col

            I will keep it real SHOULD NEVER have happen.
            When it comes to food you just don’t take a risk or a chance, you need to knock it on the head now, not tomorrow or next week.
            Someone knew a problem had popped its ugly head up, but no person spoke up to say STOP, that’s what I m getting at. If we are lucky nobody dies, but what IF?
            cheers Jman

      • Col

        That’s what I am saying managerial course? what the fuck does that say in its self, nothing. When I say practical I bloody well mean practical.
        You can never go pass the person that started as the dishwasher or the farm boy, they have done the hard yards, they know how to change a washer on a leaking tape without being asked. In this case no “Fucker” who has had a Managerial Course took responsibility, I hope you understand. This should never have happened, and no I don’t want to hear it was a mistake.

  • rangitoto

    The cow cockies will be expecting a public flogging of the Fonterra execs.

    • Ratchet

      Expect? If things go down as suggested, I think they’ll conduct their own. LITERALLY

      • BigDes

        And yep.

    • Farmer Joe

      Two lots of head rolling. Firstly an immediate batch of middle and low flunkies who cocked up will all go as the first sacrificial goats.
      Then after a gruelling government enquiry we will see the forced exit of top execs in about 3-12 months time.
      It’s a major issue for NZ Inc. Heads have to roll and fast. It would be good f some of those top execs would throw themselves on some swords now and save us the slaughter and embarrassment of a prolonged affair later.

    • conwaycaptain

      LUVVERLY a Flogging round the Fleet. 2 dozen at each ship!!! Lay on Master at Arms and show me his backbone

    • BigDes


  • Col

    Do you know what really has pissed me with Fonterra, first it is a normal practise in any foodie place to stop shit product getting out to the user, and here we have a big company fucking up. If it was the little guy or a hotel it would be closed down.
    Just do the job follow the rules, very bloody simple really.

  • CheesyEarWax

    Fonterra is a government sanctioned monopoly, a big powerful one. One wonders if these events are just grossly incompetence or pure arrogance that monopolies tend to carry.

    • Mediaan

      The farmers met at the outset and chose a monopoly. Idiots. They got talked into it on the grounds of more marketing buck to spend on their behalf.

    • jaundiced

      of course – its the government’s fault!

    • Kopua Cowboy

      We need an independant inquiry into Fonterra!!

      Also, give me back my flag!

  • Mediaan

    Too early to cast blame. All seems very strange to me.

    A big pipe on the front lawn on the street side of a factory gets contaminated by a bacterium almst never encountered in the milk industry. Yeah sure.

    It happens to be a factory that people in the loop tell us is known for being well run hygiene-wise.

    I dislike Fonterra, always have, and dislike the Dutch, too matter of fact, but the current management doesn’t show any sign of ineptitude from my chair.

    That being said, yes, highly likely their information systems could be strengthened. I wonder if their contracts with their clients could be strengthened too

    • Roger

      It is unusual to find Cl. botulinum in raw milk and it is the toxin produced that is poisonous not the bacterium itself. It would need a specific set of conditions to produce that toxin (starting with anaerobic conditions) and a low acid environment. I don’t think there has been any evidence of the toxin as yet. This is an important point but provides no comfort now the genie has circled the world three times.

      Interestingly so called botox is a “therapeutic” use of the toxin – using the muscle paralysis characteristics to tighten up lax muscles.

      Fonterra’s crisis management has been appalling and illustrates their arrogance. A simple description of the problem and the proposed path to solution at the outset would be a good start.

      • Random66

        I watched Campbell Live last night as he interviewed Fonterra. Fonterra’s spokes person advised that the toxin itself was discovered in the contaminated whey product. A mother who had fed her infant son some of the recalled formula exclaimed that if that was the case it was worse than she thought.

  • Miscellaneous

    I work in a very big FMCG corporate and its fair to say that WO is right – it’s not the mistake but the cover up.
    These corporates spend lee time arse covering and looking over their shoulders, fudging work, burying reports and filling their time with meetings to plan meetings that its no surprise that mistakes happen and it’s then no surprise they try to protect their sorry arses with cover ups.
    Fonterra can be no different. A big FMCG with lots of stale insecure middle managers covering their arses and doing nothing to fix issues.

  • hagar

    Its all a conspiracy by John Key to divert attention from the GCSB cock up…. and its worked.

  • DavidW

    All the batch control in the world is of no use if the next user in the supply chain doesn’t have the systems in place to identify precisely which blended batches contain which batches of raw material and if the next guy in the supply chain can’t identify which bins went into which cans.

    I understand that the WPC in question went to Australia where it was blended with lots of other ingredients (each having its own batch control requirements) probably from multiple countries, then probably loaded into bulk bins and sent back to NZ for canning. Not making excuses at all but Fonterra lost control of the chain the day they loaded the WPC out for Oz.

    Back in the day (mid-1990’s), NZ Dairy Packers (a subsidiary of Dairy Board and NZ Dairy Group) did most of the canning for NZ and export at its Te Rapa plant. They had an extra-ordinarily complex purpose-built system that would enable the contents of any single 1 tonne bin to be isolated and tracked to shipping destination. It cost a mint to develop and maintain and no other packing facility had the equivalent. Throughput at that stage was 50,000 tonnes per annum. Yet it was relatively simple in that all the blending was done elsewhere and other factory’s systems were relied on for batch control and QA of the multiple ingredients used to concoct a proprietary infant formula. At any point in time there would have been a heap of output “on-hold” and almost invariably it would be cleared subsequently for release and shipment.

    Dairy Packers later started blending and I have no idea what system development was undertaken to cope with the added complexity and I don’t know where Nutricia have been getting their KariCare range canned. Remember also that Nutricia are only one of 8 customers worldwide who supposedly received the suspect product.

    News reports indicate that central purchasing saw WPC used by one client in a number of subsidiaries including Coca Cola, sports drinks and blended milk formula. Probably some body-building supplements in there as well.

    So take with a grain of salt, the comments by those who claim that the answers are simple in this case.

    I will leave it to someone with microbiological qualifications to comment on the nature of C. botulinum and the fact that it is not a bug that does the damage but the toxin it produces. (see botox and its origin and how common was botulism in the early years of the canning industry where poor hygiene saw the bug sealed in an anaerobic environment.) The older ones amongst us are always aware of the shape of any can that appears to have “blown” and why suspect ones should be immediately ditched. Younger generations may not have this awareness.

  • Homepaddock

    An email to shareholders explains:

    “When we sell commercial ingredients, like the
    affected whey protein concentrate, to our customers, we do not have
    visibility of how and where they use them. We are, of course, aware of
    exactly where product is in every step of Fonterra’s own supply chain, but
    once it leaves us, it is no longer in our control.

    This means we did not know what customer products
    the affected whey protein concentrate had been used in and where these
    products were. Announcing the names of our international food and beverage
    customers without this information, could have caused even more
    uncertainty for consumers.”

    The company should have said this right at the start. It should also have had a much better communications strategy – Willy Leferink, Federated Farmers dairy spokesman gets it right: http://www.fedfarm.org.nz/publications/media-releases/article.asp?id=900#.UgAroaz_lWk Honesty – and that means not jsut the truth but the whole truth – is the only policy with food safety.

    • Random66

      While I appreciate what you have said, do you believe that Fonterra is correct to just say basically, ‘once it leaves us it’s not our problem’? Firstly it should never have left them unless they were certain the product passed all safety tests. They shouldn’t make a batch and distribute it in May 2012 and then not test it until March 2013. That time delay has allowed botulism to be introduced into our food chain. If Fonterra’s first concern was truly public safety they would not be keeping the eight suppliers a secret. They have instead provided these companies with a cloak of secrecy in which they can decide whether or not it is worth coming forward at the risk of their bottom line. Fonterra should be picking up the doctors bill of every child that has possibly consumed their contaminated product as Fonterra themselves have said the first thing a parent needs to do is take their child to the doctor. I personally would love to know what sports drinks have been affected, but we have heard nothing other than some have been. Not good enough Fonterra. Your delayed response and subsequent inability to work with your customers to bring clarity so that we the public can be fully informed of what brands and products have been affected has reduced my trust in your company.

      • DavidW

        Crap Random66. Read the background and engage the brain before letting the fingers go to work.

        The product tested clear at the time of production. There was some overage that Fonterra retained and decided to use in March this year. Before using it they tested and it showed something was not right but they couldn’t define what so retested to narrow it down.

        The nature of the bug is that it will produce toxins over time so it is entirely feasible that any of the product used smartly by the customers presented no health risk. Unfortunately lab testing is not like CSI and more often than not an abnormal result will show clear on a retest. If Fonterra reacted as you suggest with every test result that looked a bit out, they would be issuing daily warnings and would piss off their customers (remember that Fonterra are an ingredients supplier) to the extent that the business would grind to a halt.

        Again I stress that Fonterra’s handling of this has been far from perfect and that they should have provided more detail but you need some balance when dealing with a naturally variable raw material.

        • Random66

          Okay, so the filthy broken pipe didn’t cause any of the problem back in May 2012, you believe the problem lies in their storage process. Heck, now you really have me concerned. A filthy broken pipe I could understand, but if it can just happen during their storage management then that means we could have a repeat of this anytime. Oh no.

          • DavidW

            No, it means that the bacterium had not grown sufficiently at the time of post-production testing to be detectable, nor had it produced sufficient toxin to be detectable. Normally products like this are stored either in multiwall polylined bags which have the oxygen driven out by CO2 and Nitrogen gas to stop oxidation and product deterioration or else it is packed in 1 tonne bins, poly lined and similarly gassed for shelf life purposes.

            There is probably no such thing as perfectly sterile milk powder or WPC

        • tspoon

          The most illuminating explanation so far. cheers. It makes me wonder if all the other information sources I am exposed to are as content free as this issue has been over the last couple of days.

  • Auto_Immune

    I still think Russia is simply being protectionist under the guise of Health. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes to lift the ban once the dust has settled.

  • cows4me

    Lines like “It starts here …&…..The worlds greatest co-op” sound very fucking hollow at the moment. Shit if the shareholders stuff up Fonterra soon takes a nice percentage of their income, Fonterra stuffs up and it will cost us a fair percentage of our income. Many farmers have been uneasy by the direction of Fonterra, from the ramming though of TAF, the ever increasing rules and requirements forced upon the shareholders, the free spending culture, the waste , the ivory tower and the high salaries, after all we don’t want monkeys, do we. To say their are some very very pissed off people is an understatement. All I can say is the fuckers better not come up the tanker track this year demanding this and that and threating higher penalties, they’ll fucking get , WHAT FOR!

  • Ducky

    Shit! heads should roll for this fiasco. What this has done is ruined NZ as a safe food product country. Those responsible should be fired, but then again, like Labour, they don’t get fired, they get promoted.

  • Goldie

    “Here’s my prediction: Once the dust has settled, it will be discovered that their QA systems and record keeping aren’t up to scratch. Anyone who has worked in consumer food production industries knows about the requirements and importance of batch control and being able to trace all the ingredients and final output.”
    The actual problem (a dirty pipe) was a miniscule problem – Fonterra testing picked it up and the immediate problem was dealt with. It may have been a simple spreadsheet error which meant that the identified product going into wider release.
    More worrying is the reaction of the Chinese – we seem to have seriously pissed off the Chinese authorities who really have it in for NZ – first meat, now dairy.

    • 4077th

      I think the over reaction from the Chinese and the Russians has nothing to do with produce at all. In the case of the Chinese it’s a little bit of payback for the seriously bad publicity of the Melamine scandal and what effect that had on their economy. Food contamination is a way of life in China this is a blip on the landscape for them in real terms but is the perfect opportunity to balance out the negativity. Anyone who knows Chinese business people knows they are ruthless BUT they will, at all costs not loose face. As far as the Russians are concerned it is nothing more than a political statement plain and simple. Most Russians wouldn’t and couldn’t give a shit about what happens in this tiny little pimple on the arse of the world we call NZ.

  • BigDes

    Just got an email from Fonterra. They have identified and traced all affected product. All players informed and up to date.

  • CC

    Expect the world would be improved by a bit of responsibility.
    Managers and directors get big bonuses when the company does well – it’s only fair that they take the punishment when it doesn’t.
    After all, if a farmer stuffs up and gets gack in the milk, he gets fined; if an employee gets gack in the milk, it’s only fair that he get punished. Along with the manager who promoted someone who was simply not competent enough to do the job.
    And the manager who promoted that manager, for that matter.

  • Travis Poulson

    Botulism death count update: 0

  • pukakidon

    More of the foreign bastards coming here and dropping us in the shit. Who is checking on the credentials of these idiots. What will happen? Nothing because it never does with these pricks. I hope the farmers demand the heads of these fools. They should also be kicked back to where ever they came from.

  • Marty

    Gentlemen, the message is simple.

    Clean out your pipes morning and night to avoid any potential blockages and the onset of botulism.