1080 blackmail threat

In November 2014, a threat was made to contaminate infant and other formula with the poison 1080, unless the government stopped using 1080. MPI, other government agencies, and industry worked quickly to protect consumers and ensure formula was safe. A man was arrested and charged in October 2015. On 23 March 2016 he was sentenced to 8.5 years in jail for 2 charges of attempted blackmail.


Consumer health is our top priority

Infant and other formulas are as safe to use today as they were before the threat was made. But our advice is always to check the packaging of any food product for signs of tampering, especially products intended for the most vulnerable people, like babies. If you do find signs of tampering, call MPI on 0800 00 83 33.

In response to the blackmail threat, we developed resources to help consumers check for signs of tampering.

 Video – checking for tampering

New Zealand has one of the most advanced and secure food safety systems in the world. All New Zealand formula producers use manufacturing systems that meet strict safety standards.

[A dairy tanker truck drives past grassy fields. The truck driver locks a hose onto a silo to transfer milk to the tanker. The driver opens panels on the truck to a machine where he connects and fills sample bottles.]

Dairy companies also test for quality and nutrition throughout the manufacturing system.

[Milk moves quickly through a factory pipe. Large bags of powdered infant formula move through a packing system.]

Infant formula and other formulas are usually sold in tamper-evident packaging. Tamper-evident means packaging is designed to protect the formula and help you tell if someone has opened or interfered with the packaging.

This video tells you about some of the common tamper-evident packaging used by infant and other formula manufacturers, and what to look for.

When checking for tampering, remember that not all products and brands are the same. If a product looks damaged or strange, check the packaging against others of the same type to see if they match. Turn the product over and check the base for any signs of tampering.

If you find a package that appears to have been tampered with, don't use it. Keep the package and call the Police on 0800 72 36 65.

If you have any health concerns, call Healthline on 0800 61 11 16.

Generally cans have a plastic lid covering a foil seal. Some foil seals may have a pull tab for opening. Some cans may also have clear plastic film over the plastic lid. Check all these areas for tears, rips, holes, or other punctures.

Check the base of the can. Look for any significant bulging of the seals or of the can. This can indicate tampering.

Sachets are sold individually, or in a cardboard package with individual foil sachets inside. If bought in a cardboard package, check it for unusual holes, tears, rips, or damage. Check each sachet. If any are broken, torn, are swollen or bulge abnormally, have holes, or leak formula when shaken or squeezed, don't use them.

Liquid formula can be sold in plastic bottles with foil seals, plastic screw-top lids, and may be covered in clear plastic film. Check all these areas and the base of the bottle for tears, rips, holes, or other punctures. Look for any significant bulging of the seals or of the bottle. This can indicate tampering.

You can find additional information by watching our video about the security measures that protect New Zealand infant and other formulas at every stage.

Remember, if you find a package that appears to have been tampered with, don't use it. Keep the package and call the Police on 0800 72 36 65.

If you have any health concerns, call Healthline on 0800 61 11 16.

For more information, call the Ministry for Primary Industries on 0800 00 83 33.

Download a factsheet on how to check for tampering [PDF, 578 KB]

Government's response

When the threat was made, the government, manufacturers, and retailers worked together to put additional layers of security in place so consumers could continue using infant formula with confidence. We called our coordinated response 'Operation Concord'.

Because security and safety measures for making infant and other formula have always been very strong, we knew there was only a low risk to consumers. 

What we did

When the threat was made, government and industry increased vigilance and security across the supply chain. We:

  • added extra security at infant and other formula factories
  • extended milk and milk product testing, including a new 1080 testing programme
  • increased the vigilance of everyone in the supply chain
  • put in place an audit programme to confirm dairy processing facilities continue to maintain the highest level of security and vigilance
  • strengthened security at retail stores
  • made information and advice available to consumers through a range of channels.

Much of this heightened security remains in place, even after the arrest.

We developed resources during the response to show the security of the infant and other formula supply chain.

Download our factsheet showing all the checks in the supply chain [PDF, 172 KB]

 Video – the supply chain

[Title card: Protecting lives and our milk industry]

New Zealand has one of the most advanced and secure food safety systems in the world. In response to recent events, the New Zealand government has reviewed the security controls that protect infant and other formula during all production and processing steps, and has strengthened the system even further by introducing additional security layers.

[Dairy cows are seen in a New Zealand field. A dairy tanker driver locks a hose onto a silo and begins filling the tanker with milk. He opens panels on the sides of the truck and connects small bottles to take samples.]

This video explains how the food safety system and the additional measures put in place work together to make sure we are confident of the safety of New Zealand's formula products.

[Workers in a lab test samples of liquid dairy product and powdered infant formula.]

[Title card: Do not use products that look as if they have been tampered with.]

As always, we advise consumers not to use products that look as if they may have been tampered with – for example, seals broken or punctured.

All New Zealand formula producers use sophisticated manufacturing systems that meet strict safety standards. Manufacturers also test for quality, safety and nutrition at several steps throughout the production and manufacturing system.

[We see large dairy silos, testing equipment, further testing in a lab environment, and cans of powdered infant formula move along a conveyor belt.]

The Ministry for Primary Industries has worked with dairy manufacturers to introduce additional security measures. Samples kept from products made as far back as September 2014 were tested extensively. This gives us a high level of confidence that no product on shelves has been contaminated through the production and manufacturing process.

The manufacturing process begins when fresh milk is stored on the farm. It's then collected in sealed tankers by the dairy company who will collect samples from every farm for quality testing. The samples from each farm are sent to laboratories that are audited to international standards and approved by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

[A dairy tanker drives past farms. A driver connects a hose to a silo, and connects sample bottles to the truck. A lab technician receives and unseals a small cooler marked with official Ministry for Primary Industries sealing tape. Another technician fills a pipette with liquid dairy product from a sample tube.]

Tankers take the milk to the dairy company's factory, where it goes into large silos and is stored. A sample from each milk tanker is then tested for chemical residues. Tankers are cleaned daily. The milk goes into a hygienically sealed and secure production system to keep it clean and protected from contamination.

[We see large stainless steel dairy silos. A dairy tanker drives past grassy fields. A truck waits for a security fence and boom gate to open at a factory, while a security guard watches it on closed-circuit security cameras. A worker uses an RFID card to enter a secured area. Workers in jumpsuits enter an area with a large silo and pipes, where milk is seen through a small window.]

Ingredients are added and then more quality testing is done by the dairy company. The liquid milk is then processed into milk powder. This powder is protected while being processed and is packed into bags.

[A closed-circuit camera is seen. Large bags of powdered infant formula move through a packing system. A worker uses a machine to put a sample into a plastic bag.]

Samples are taken and sent for testing to be sure that the milk powder has not been contaminated at any point, or through any of the ingredients.

[In a testing lab, a technician measures a sample on a digital scale. Another technician loads sample vials into a centrifuge.]

Some of the milk powder is then sent to be made into products in New Zealand. Milk powder is then mixed with nutrients and vitamins to make a range of products including infant formula, which is then packed. During packing, high-security cleaning systems keep these products free of contaminants. This includes keeping cans upside down and flushing with purified air just before they are filled and sealed.

[Cans move on conveyors through a packing system.]

Samples are taken and sent for 1080 testing to again be sure that the milk powder has not been contaminated at any point, or through any of the ingredients.

[A lab technician opens the seal on a can of powdered infant formula and measures powder into a sample vial.]

Finished and packaged formula is also tested by the dairy company to ensure it is safe, wholesome, and meets all nutritional standards.

[Cans of infant formula move on a conveyor belt.]

The products have been securely transported through every stage of their distribution. Retailers check the products and keep them safe before they are purchased.

[A red ‘No entry’ sign is seen in front of a fence and shipping containers. A worker in hard hat and high-visibility vest enters data into a tablet, while another in the background scans boxes on warehouse shelves.]

You can be sure New Zealand infant and other formula products are of the highest quality, have been produced using a world-class food safety system, and are free of 1080.

[Icons for 16 process checkpoints and testing points are shown on-screen.]

You can find additional advice about safety and security checks you can do when buying New Zealand infant and other formula products by watching our video about how to tell if the package has been tampered with.

For more information, you can call the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries on 0800 00 83 33.


Find out more

On 23 March 2016 MPI delivered its Victim Impact Statement to the Auckland High Court. The statement outlined how the scale and duration of the operation resulted in direct costs to MPI of several million dollars, as well as considerable pressure on the many people involved.

Download the statement [PDF, 1.2 MB]

We've also released a range of documents about 'Operation Concord' under the Official Information Act (OIA).

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