Mike Clement, Police deputy commissioner of national operations, (right), and Ministry for Primary Industries deputy director general Scott Gallagher. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Mike Clement, Police deputy commissioner of national operations, (right), and Ministry for Primary Industries deputy director general Scott Gallagher. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Threat to poison baby formula 'form of ecoterrorism'

NEW Zealand police are appealing for information following a threat to contaminate infant formula and other formula in an apparent protest over the use of 1080 poison in pest control.

Federated Farmers and Fonterra received anonymous letters in November accompanied by small packages of milk powder, which later tested positive for a concentrated form of the poison 1080.

The letters carried a threat to contaminate formula with 1080 unless New Zealand stopped using the poison for pest control by the end of March.

Police said the letter was likely to be a hoax, but the person or people who wrote the letters threatened to make their threat public if the Government did not meet their demand by the end of this month.

Fronterra operates 10 manufacturing sites across Australia, but no link has been drawn between the threats in New Zealand and the Australian sites.

Prime Minister John Key said it was a "form of ecoterrorism, without doubt".

That was despite officials being very confident the risk of the threat being carried out was low.

He said he was confident every measure had been taken to address the threat. He was very confident New Zealand's food remained safe.

Speaking at a press conference at Parliament, Mr Key said his message to parents was that there was a low likelihood of the threats been acted upon, and he was confident that food products were safe.

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy said since the threats more than 40,000 tests had been carried out on products and no infant or other milk formula product had shown any trace of 1080.

"Police have advised there is a low likelihood of the threat being carried out, but because of the nature of it, both the police and ministers have taken the treat seriously," Mr Key said.

"I want to reassure parents that every step possible has been taken to respond to the threat, to ensure the ongoing safety of our food products.

"Obviously we also needed to work with the industry to ensure every step was taken to protect the supply chain before the public was informed," Mr Key said.

"These steps include the development and implementation of a specific testing regime. Official advice was to be very cautious about making this threat public until appropriate measures were in place. Today there have been a number of media queries so we have brought the announcement forward."

"Police have advised there is a low likelihood of the threat being carried out, but because of the nature of it, both the police and ministers have taken the treat seriously," Mr Key said.

"I want to reassure parents that every step possible has been taken to respond to the threat, to ensure the ongoing safety of our food products."

"It is eco-terrorism," Mr Guy said this afternoon. Mr Guy said the criminal blackmail threat was "absolutely appalling."

He said 40,000 tests were carried out in recent weeks and 20 manufacturers contacted.

No traces of 1080 were found in any of the tested products, Mr Guy said.

 

One of the envelopes the threats arrived in. Photo / NZ Police
One of the envelopes the threats arrived in. Photo / NZ Police

What is 1080?

Sodium monofluoroacetate, commonly known as 1080, is a fine white powder. It has a slight odour and taste and is said to dissolve easily in water.

While manufactured 1080 is a highly lethal poison to many species, the active ingredient, fluoroacetate, is identical to a substance that occurs naturally in many poisonous plants.
These plants are found in Brazil, Africa, and Australia.

1080 comes in several forms, usually in small dyed green pellets, but also sprayed with carrot baits, pastes and gels.

Federated Farmers: Security is first class

Federated Farmers confirmed it received the anonymous letter, addressed to chief executive Graham Smith, at its Wellington offices in late November.

The letter, accompanied by an enclosed plastic bag containing a powder, was handed over to police.

Federated Farmers president Dr William Rolleston said the letter was of extremely serious concern.

"But I am confident from what I've seen that our regulatory authorities and processors have created formidable barriers to any such threat being carried out.

"I've recently been invited through Fonterra's Canpac plant in Hamilton where they do secondary milk powder packaging as well as the Te Rapa factory which manufactures 20 percent of Fonterra's national milkpowder production.

"It's evident that the security surrounding dairy processing in New Zealand is second to none and the tamper proofing of the product is also first class."

Dr Rolleston said MPI had implemented a comprehensive 1080 testing regime in dairy processing plants "which should allay consumer concerns".

He said the use of 1080 was both a vital and safe means of controlling the spread of bovine tuberculosis (Tb) 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."

Dr Rolleston said farmers could help to counter the sabotage threat.

"We fully support the police investigation and I urge any members of Federated Farmers to immediately notify police if they have any information which may assist the police in their enquiries."



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