New Zealand is struggling to cope with a food shortage as a major food company faces fresh scrutiny over its role in the massive Canterbury earthquake and tsunami disaster.
The Canterbury Earthquake and Tsunami of October 2008 hit the nation, killing more than 7,000 people and devastating parts of New Zealand.
The country’s largest food company, Food First NZ, has been rocked by the government’s ongoing probe into its role and whether it played any role in preparing food for the quake’s aftermath.
The investigation, led by the Ministry of Primary Industries and Consumer Affairs, has already seen food and drink companies and the government put forward evidence that some of its products were used to supply emergency services with food and supplies.
But Food First has said that it has been “fully cooperative” with the government inquiry and will continue to support its efforts.
“Food First has no involvement with the Canterbury earthquake response,” it said in a statement.
“We continue to be fully cooperative with the Government inquiry into food safety, and will support the ongoing investigations and ongoing process.”
Food First is one of New York’s biggest and most well-known food companies.
The company owns and operates more than 40 retail stores, and more than 150 restaurants.
It owns and manages the entire New Zealand frozen food supply chain, which includes many supermarkets.
In an interview with the ABC last week, Food Chief Executive Andrew Golling said he was “really surprised” to hear the Ministry was examining food safety issues and how it would be used to justify a potential $400m fine.
“I’m really shocked that the Government is so keen to investigate this and to make a very strong case to the media and to the public that this is a significant breach of consumer rights,” Mr Gollings said.
“It’s absolutely shocking that a company like this would be a part of it.”
The investigation comes amid a number of new revelations about the food supply network of the company.
It is understood that the food safety crisis was compounded by delays in preparing emergency food for people in hospitals and emergency departments.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which has been probing the company, is investigating the food network and said it would “re-examine the current supply chain in light of the recent events”.
The company said it had been “overwhelmed” by the response from the public, the media, the government and other stakeholders.
“This is one that we are taking very seriously and taking seriously now,” Mr O’Brien said.
The Food First spokesman said the company was “working closely with the Ministry” to ensure food safety and “we’re committed to doing everything we can to make sure the food is safe”.
He said the investigation into the company’s food supply had also “raised concerns” about Food First’s compliance with the Food Standards Code.
Food First said it did not “conduct research” on food safety.
But the Food First spokesperson said the food company had a “zero tolerance” approach to food safety.
“We have zero tolerance for food safety breaches and are constantly testing our products and processes,” he said.