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China stops NZ milk powder imports

China has stopped the import of all New Zealand milk powder following the alert by Fonterra that an ingredient could be contaminated by a potentially deadly bacteria.

Chinese customers buying imported baby formula in a supermarket in Beijing. Photo:Jingwah Times 

Trade Minister Tim Groser disclosed China's move on TVNZ's Q+A programme, as Nutricia launches a recall of some baby formula in New Zealand.

China has suspended imports of New Zealand milk powders after Fonterra revealed three batches of whey product, which is used to make infant formulas and sports drinks, have been found to contain the toxic bacteria Clostridium Botulinum, which can cause botulism.

"The authorities in China, in my opinion absolutely appropriately, have stopped all imports of New Zealand milk powders from Australia and New Zealand," Mr Groser said.

"It's better to do blanket protection for your people and then wind it back when we, our authorities, are in a position to give them the confidence and advice that they need before doing that," he said.

"So we're working extremely closely with the Chinese and other authorities - the trade issues are not just about China."

Nutricia is now recalling Karicare Infant Formula Stage 1 (0-6 months), in New Zealand only, with batch numbers 3169 and 3170 and use by dates of 17 06 2016 and 18 06 2016.

Also being recalled is Karicare Gold+ Follow On Formula Stage 2 (6-12 months), in New Zealand only, with batch number D3183 and a use by date of 31 12 2014.

Fonterra yesterday informed Nutricia that one of their ingredients had a potential quality issue, Nutricia said in a statement released overnight.

"Nutricia received a further update from Fonterra at 8.15pm (NZ time) on Saturday 3rd August. This new information indicated that some of the ingredients supplied to Nutricia may also have been contaminated."

Consumers should not feed products with these batch numbers to infants, Nutricia said.

Nutricia's quality and food safety management system includes rigorous testing procedures of its finished products, and none of the products tested and sold in New Zealand indicate any contamination, it said.

"However, given the new information supplied by Fonterra, we have taken the decision to make a precautionary recall on specific products," the statement said.

The recall does not include other Karicare products.

Further information can be obtained from Nutricia's Customer Careline on 0800 258 268.

Fonterra has confirmed that no Fonterra-branded consumer products are affected by the contamination issue.

Fonterra said it has assured consumers in global markets including Australia, Asia, China, Latin America, New Zealand and the Middle East that none of its range of branded consumer products contains the affected whey protein concentrate.

The head of Fonterra has flown to China to speak to officials there but details remain scant about what international companies and products may be affected and Mr Groser said he will go to China is necessary.

The Minister said questions of why and where the potential contamination happened, who is going to take responsibility and why the Government wasn't informed earlier are very important.

He said there will be a full investigation but right now the priority is dealing with the immediate issue.

"We will return there when we've sorted out the immediate risk to babies - our own and in other countries," he said.

Fonterra at the centre of formula fury

Meanwhile, furious parents, exporters and officials are questioning why it took Fonterra more than a year to identify and warn of a deadly bacteria possibly contaminating baby formula here and overseas.

Photo:Getty

In developments yesterday it was revealed:

No tainted formula is believed to be on New Zealand shelves, but Kiwi mums slam Fonterra for its delay in naming contaminated baby food - leaving them panicking for most of the day.

Only Nutricia Karicare "follow on" formula products for infants older than six months were thought to be affected in New Zealand, and the five possible contaminated batches had been isolated to a warehouse in Auckland, a ship and storage in Australia.

China instantly reacted, ordering a recall of all milk-powder products from New Zealand, well beyond those affected by the contaminated whey.

New Zealand exporters say Fonterra's crisis is affecting them all and damaging the country's reputation for food safety around the world.

The scare involves 40 tonnes of tainted concentrated whey used to make 900 tonnes of food including infant formula, yoghurt, sports and protein drinks across seven countries.

In New Zealand, only formula is thought to be affected, and although none of it had reached shop shelves, the acting director general of the Ministry of Primary Industries, Scott Gallacher still advised parents not to use any of the affected type of formula as a precaution.

Fonterra had announced the contamination scare early yesterday but then refused to name the actual tainted products. It wasn't until late yesterday afternoon that MPI told New Zealand parents which brand was affected.

Mothers were furious at the lack of information. One said she rang an 0800 Careline of the manufacturer of the formula she used, finding only an automated message telling her to ring back on Monday.

"I bet I'm not the only mum a tad worried that I'm feeding my baby 'bad' formula."

Another wrote on Facebook: "If people know what it is then they can get rid of it before they use it, how dumb putting out warnings and people have to guess what product is affected. Putting lives at risk keeping this a secret."

Fonterra, our largest company and the world's largest dairy processor, exports a third of New Zealand's milk powder to China, and chief executive Theo Spierings was yesterday on his way there in an attempt at damage control.

The other countries caught up in the crisis are Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

This is the third infant formula shock for Fonterra in China in six years, aggravating tensions with a key trading partner increasingly tetchy over what it says are lax food standards here.

But exporters are blaming Fonterra's poor communications for further damaging New Zealand's reputation.

The scandal erupted when Fonterra made public that three batches of product made at its Hautapu, Waikato, manufacturing facility in May 2012 were contaminated due to a dirty pipe.

Fonterra did not become aware of a problem until March, but it was not until Wednesday that tests confirmed the presence of the rare bacteria Clostridium botulinum. It can cause botulism, which can lead to paralysis and rapid death. The Government was told on Friday afternoon.

Gallacher said there were "lots of questions" being asked of Fonterra over the timelines and the way the issue was communicated.

Fonterra had assured MPI that only five batches of Nutricia Karicare possibly containing contaminated product were on sale anywhere, but officials were physically double-checking that the statements were correct.

Labour's primary industries spokesman, Damien O'Connor, said: "It is brand New Zealand that is at stake here. Fonterra is our biggest company. New Zealanders have to be confident that they can do the right thing every time one of these incidents occur."

Gallacher said MPI wanted to know why it took 14 months for the issue to come to light.

Infant formula exporters are "frustrated" with Fonterra's response.

Chris Claridge, chief administrative officer of the New Zealand Infant Formula Exporters Association, said none of its members' products were affected, but they would now be in damage control.

"China is a major market. And this is a recurring situation with infant formula in the media. It instantly makes front-page news.

Claridge said the incident would damage New Zealand's reputation, at least in the short term.

He said the time lapse was "not acceptable".

"That's what makes us more nervous. The delay in notification, while babies have possibly been consuming this product."

Steve Flint, associate professor in food microbiology at Massey University's Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health, said Clostridium botulinum was rare in this country and difficult to isolate.


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