Dairy giant Fonterra has been fined $NZ300,000 ($A280,177) after admitting four charges laid over the 2013 whey protein contamination scare.
The company was sentenced on the charges, laid by the Ministry for Primary Industries, in Wellington District Court on Friday afternoon.
In handing down the fine, Judge Peter Hobbs said there was a need to hold Fonterra to account for the impact the scare had on New Zealand’s reputation as a safe food exporter.
It was feared 38 tonnes of whey protein concentrate – a key ingredient in infant formula – had been contaminated with a botulism-causing bacteria, prompting a global recall of some dairy products.
But further testing confirmed the bacteria found didn’t present a health risk and the scare was a false alarm.
Judge Hobbs said the food safety crisis left New Zealand’s reputation as a high quality food exporter shaken and had had a downstream impact on dairy producers.
He accepted the scare resulted from “carelessness and failure to follow procedures” rather than any deliberate action.
However, Judge Hobbs said Fonterra “could and should have done better”.
The charges against Fonterra, laid under the Animal Products Act, follow the ministry’s own compliance investigation into the incident.
The company previously said it would not contest the charges.
The charges Fonterra pleaded guilty to were:
* Processing dairy product not in accordance with its risk management program
* Exporting dairy product that failed to meet relevant animal product standards
* Failing to notify its verifier of significant concerns that dairy product had not been processed in accordance with its risk management program
* Failing to notify the director-general as soon as possible that exported dairy product was not fit for intended purpose.
The maximum fine Fonterra faced was $NZ500,000.
French food giant Danone, which made infant formula from the whey protein, is suing Fonterra for losses, claiming the botulism scare cost it more than $NZ570 million.