Fonterra scare: the other side of Botox

By Siouxsie Wiles 04/08/2013 7


Fonterra is currently in the midst of its third scare in as many years, with news that over 30 tonnes of whey powder concentrate manufactured at the Hautapu plant in Waikato has been contaminated with the soil bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The contamination happened back in May 2012, caused by a faulty pipe, and there are reports that the three contaminated batches could have already been exported to Australia, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vietnam. China has stopped the importation of all New Zealand milk powders, while Russia has suspended the import and circulation of Fonterra products. Here in New Zealand, Nutricia has recalled two Karicare baby milks, their Stage 1 Infant Formula for babies aged 0-6 months and their Stage 2 Gold+ Follow on Formula for babies 6-12 months*. Fonterra animal feed subsidiary NZAgbiz has also recalled a small amount of calf milk replacer sold in the North Island.

C. botulinum is a Gram-positive bacterium, which cannot tolerate any more than trace amounts of oxygen**. The bacterium produces spores which are very hard to kill and thus help the bacterium survive adverse conditions. C. botulinum is a worry because it can cause botulism, a rare but sometimes fatal illness. Botulism is caused by the ability of C. botulinum to produce several neurotoxins (types A-G) which prevent acetylcholine from being released from the motor nerve endings causing flaccid paralysis and symptoms of blurred vision, drooping eyelids, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or constipation and cramps. In severe cases it leads to paralysis of the breathing muscles and causes respiratory failure. Toxin types A, B, E, and F cause disease in humans while types C and D cause disease in cows, birds, and other animals but not in humans. The toxins are produced when C. botulinum spores germinate and the bacterium starts to actively grow, which it can only do in an environment with no oxygen.

There are three main forms of illness caused by C. botulinum:
1. Foodborne botulism, caused by consuming food or drink contaminated with botulinum toxins,
2. Infant botulism, where the gastrointestinal tracts of babies becomes colonised by C. botulinum spores before their protective gut microbes establish are established. This is why parents are advised not to give honey to children under the age of 1,
3. Wound botulism, when wounds become infected with C. botulinum spores.
No wonder then that the Karicare infant milk powders have been recalled.

Botulinum toxin A is one of the most toxic substances known to man. According to Wikipedia, 1 kilogram of it would be enough to kill the entire human population! Incredible then that this deadly toxin is voluntarily injected into the faces of millions in the pursuit of youth. They know it by its trade name – Botox. But it’s not just used for treating wrinkles, botulinum toxin A is also used to treat spasms, migraines, squints, excessive blinking and excessive sweating.

Ironic then that a marvel of modern medicine is likely to cost our economy millions, a reminder that New Zealand needs to look beyond milk powder and as Shaun Hendy says “Get off the grass“.

*Recalled products:
Karicare Infant Formula Stage 1 (0-6 months) with batch numbers 3169 and 3170 (use by 17 06 2016 and 18 06 2016).
Karicare Gold+ Follow On Formula Stage 2 (6–12 months) with batch number D3183 (use by 31 12 2014).

**called an obligate anaerobe


7 Responses to “Fonterra scare: the other side of Botox”

  • It would be great if someone would actually quantify the Fonterra problem. How much botox do they think actually made it into the food chain? What is the likely concentration? How much milk powder would you need to ingest to become ill? Those questions should be easy enough for Fonterra to answer.

    • Hi Hans, Its not the botox that has made it into the food chain but the bacterium, most likely in spore form. I agree it would be good for Fonterra to say how much contamination they had identified.

  • Just saw this – god… I work in an office in a city – and even I knew weeks before the announcement on the 29th this wasn’t botulism. Search RNZ National Rural News…. there’s a scientist using some actual science on there. I hope you’re embarrassed by your totally off the beam media gushes, that achieved zero apart from keeping the misguided medias football of the week rolling – and cost NZ millions.

  • Hi Reggie

    Thanks for commenting. All my “off beam media gushes” as you call them were for Fonterra to make their data available for scrutiny, or were explanations of what botulism is. Given we were told it was botulism, I’m unclear why my efforts offended you so much. The media were going to run with this story whether or not I spoke to them.