Details of Government Inquiry into whey protein confirmed

  • Nikki Kaye
  • Nathan Guy
Primary Industries Food Safety

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye have today confirmed details of the Government’s investigation into the whey protein concentrate contamination (WPC) incident, including two further members.

“Now that the Inquiries Act has passed into law, the terms of reference have been finalised and the appointments of Tony Nowell CNZM and Dr Anne Astin as inquiry members have been confirmed. The Inquiry will be officially established once it is notified in the New Zealand Gazette on 12 September 2013,” says Mr Guy.

Mr Nowell has extensive governance, food standards and export sector experience. He is currently Chair of Scion (New Zealand Forest Research Ltd), and a director of Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the National Export Advisory Board. He is also a past Chief Executive of Zespri International Ltd and previously held senior management roles with Griffin’s Foods Ltd and Sara Lee Corporation.

Dr Astin has extensive scientific and management experience.  She was the Chief Executive Officer who developed, established and led the start-up of a government statutory authority for dairy food safety in Victoria, Australia. She held this position for 10 years.

“This is a high quality panel with the skills, knowledge, experience and independence to lead this work. They will work with Miriam Dean CNZM QC who was announced as the Chair on 19 August,” says Ms Kaye.

“We are fortunate to have Professor Alan Reilly, Chief Executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, agree to act as expert peer reviewer for the inquiry’s reports. Professor Reilly has worked for over 30 years in the area of food safety. Before taking up his Chief Executive role he worked in the Food Safety Programme of the World Health Organization in Geneva. He is also the chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the European Food Information Council.

“The inquiry will send a strong message that New Zealand takes these issues seriously, and that we are determined to protect the strong reputation for food safety we have built up over generations.

“This will be a robust, independent inquiry into the cause of this incident, the response and any lessons for our food safety systems,” says Ms Kaye

“Food systems rely on consumer confidence in the integrity of our industry, regulatory systems and products. The Government has placed a strong emphasis throughout this incident on transparency and openness to domestic and international consumers,” says Mr Guy.

“We are confident our systems will be even stronger and more responsive as a result of this inquiry.”

The inquiry will report back in two parts, with Parts B and C examining regulatory and best practice requirements against the background of this incident in relation to the dairy industry, including the role of regulators. This first stage of the inquiry has an interim report date of prior to Christmas.

Q&A

When will the inquiry officially commence?

The members of the inquiry team have received appointment letters but the inquiry is not officially established until the inquiry is notified in the New Zealand Gazette on 12 September 2013.

Where will the inquiry be based and who should I contact if I have a query about the inquiry?

The Department of Internal Affairs is the agency that will be administering the inquiry. The secretariat will be based in the Department of Internal Affairs. Secretariat staff have been appointed by the Department of Internal Affairs in consultation with the Chair. You can contact the secretariat from 12 September on 04 495 7299 or Iona.Wassilieff@dia.govt.nz

Have there been any changes to the terms of reference?

Ministers have consulted with and received advice from relevant agencies and the Chair designate of the inquiry. There are relatively minor changes that relate to terminology and sequencing of aspects of the inquiry. The terms of reference are attached and will be published as part of the Gazette notice.

What are the timeframes for the inquiry?

Part A of the inquiry will look at how the potentially contaminated whey protein concentrate entered the New Zealand and international market, and how this was subsequently addressed. This part of the inquiry will not be considered until the outcome of the compliance investigation and any other proceedings are completed to ensure due process, and to avoid overlapping Inquiry and investigative processes.

Parts B and C will look at regulatory and best practice requirements against the background of this incident in relation to the dairy industry, including the role of regulators. The inquiry will then report back on any recommended legal, regulatory or operational changes. 

The inquiry will prepare an interim report on Parts B and C within three months of the publication of the Gazette notice. The final full report will be produced after the Ministry for Primary Industries’ compliance investigation and any subsequent Court proceedings have reached a stage where they cannot be prejudiced by the inquiry’s processes.