GARY Romano has become the first head to roll over Fonterra’s botulism scare, though it’s come as a surprise to an industry spokesman.
The dairy giant’s NZ Milk Products managing director tendered his resignation on Wednesday, a week and a half after the company revealed that 38 tonnes of whey protein produced last year at its Hautapu plant was contaminated with a bacteria that could lead to botulism.
Mr Romano, who initially fronted for Fonterra to New Zealand media while chief executive Theo Spierings went to China, has resigned effective immediately.
Pressure has been mounting on Fonterra since the scare became public but Federated Farmers dairy chairman Willy Leferink says he’s surprised Mr Romano, who had been with the company since 2005, resigned before the results of four inquiries were made public.
“He decided that this is the day and I’m sad to see him leave,” Mr Leferink told Radio New Zealand.
“I don’t think that he personally would be responsible for the mistakes, but at the end he’s the head of NZ Milk Products.”
Mr Spierings will personally assume interim responsibility for the daily operations of NZ Milk, which collects milk from New Zealand farmers and manufacturers it into dairy products ready for export.
“Gary has made a significant contribution during his time at Fonterra and we respect his decision,” Mr Spierings said.
The resignation comes a day after it was confirmed Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus have banned the import of nearly all Fonterra products, a ban which could last into next year.
Russia imported more than $NZ106 million ($A93.77 million) of New Zealand dairy products in 2012. Kazakhstan’s dairy imports were about $NZ310,000, while the amount from Belarus is negligible.
Four inquiries have been launched – two by Fonterra, one by the New Zealand ministry for primary industries and a ministerial inquiry launched by the government.
Added to Fonterra’s problems is a ban on Anchor products by Sri Lanka after its tests found the chemical DCD in milk powder, though the company’s managing director Leon Clement says Sri Lanka doesn’t have the proper technology to test for DCD.