New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra has admitted it broke food safety rules after last year’s botulism scare.

The co-op accepted four charges filed against it by the country’s government, following fears last August that 38t of whey protein concentrate contained botulism-causing bacteria.

China blocked New Zealand dairy imports for three weeks and thousands of cans of baby formula had to be recalled, although the bacteria was eventually found to be less harmful.

French manufacturer Danone, whose subsidiary Nutricia makes baby formula, said it lost €350m from the recall and started suing Fonterra for damages earlier this year.

Fonterra managing director for people, culture and strategy Maury Leyland said the co-op accepted responsibility for the allegations.

“The WPC80 event caused us to examine in detail what happened, why it happened and what we must do to minimise the risk of it ever happening again,” she said.

“Food quality and safety remain our top priority and are fundamental to our business. Fonterra is committed to complying with New Zealand’s food safety and quality regulations and being held accountable if it does not.”

The charges issued against Fonterra by the Ministry for Primary Industries were:

  • Processing dairy product not in accordance with its risk management programme
  • 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 programme
  • Failing to notify the director general as soon as possible that exported dairy product was not fit for intended purpose

One of the world’s biggest dairy exporters, Fonterra has 10,500 farmer members who produce 16bn of the 22bn litres of milk it processes each year.