WELLINGTON, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- A senior executive at New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra resigned Wednesday in the wake of the company's botulism scare, becoming the first casualty of a crisis that the New Zealand government is still trying to contain.
A brief statement from Fonterra announced that Gary Romano had resigned from his role of managing director New Zealand milk products, with immediate effect, and chief executive Theo Spierings had accepted the resignation.
"Gary has made a significant contribution during his time at Fonterra and we respect his decision," Spierings said in the statement.
Spierings would assume interim responsibility for the day-to- day operations of New Zealand milk products.
Romano became the leading face of Fonterra in New Zealand in the days immediately after the contamination was revealed.
His resignation came as the government said it was still working to overturn bans by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan on New Zealand dairy products, as criticism of the government's handling of the Fonterra botulism crisis continued.
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said in a statement that primary industry and trade officials and the New Zealand Embassy in Moscow were working to reopen the market, including by meeting with key food safety and health officials in Moscow.
"No potentially contaminated product has been exported to Russia, Kazakhstan or Belarus from New Zealand. However Russia has taken a precautionary approach, and we are now working to reassure the appropriate agencies of all the steps being taken," Guy said.
New Zealand dairy exports to Russia last year were valued at about 106 million NZ dollars (84.57 million U.S. dollars) and those to Kazakhstan at 310,608 NZ dollars, but virtually no New Zealand dairy products were exported to Belarus.
The main opposition Labour Party's trade spokesperson, Clayton Cosgrove, said New Zealand officials had been too slow to answer questions from the Russian Federal Service for Consumer Rights Protection.
"Officials were too slow to reassure the Russians that there were no issues with Fonterra products. Russia now requires a new inspection of almost all New Zealand dairy products. This will not happen until next year at the earliest," Cosgrove said in a statement.
Fonterra and the Ministry for Primary Industries announced early this month that 38 tonnes of whey protein concentrate had been contaminated in May last year with a bacterium that can cause botulism.
A series of inquiries by the government and the company have been launched to examine the causes and handling of the contamination.