China will not tolerate another slip-up from Fonterra, with the dairy giant caught up in its third contamination scare there since 2008. Recently the country took in more than $3bn of New Zealand dairy products.
Now New Zealand's clean, green image is being eroded in the Chinese media after revelations at the weekend that a number of the dairy firm's customers used whey protein that may be contaminated with botulism-causing bacteria to manufacture consumer products, including infant formula.
In an editorial article in the state-run Xinhua news agency this afternoon, widely regarded as a mouthpiece of China's Government, it went as far as saying the country's 100 per cent Pure Tourism campaign is now a "festering sore" and suggested New Zealand would be abandoned by its major trading partners if "systemic" food safety issues were not fixed.
Meanwhile China this afternoon published a draft regulation on domestic infant formula production to seek public opinions, which will raise standards in the sector in an all-round way, said its State Food and Drug Administration.
It requires infant formula producers to implement the management systems of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point and Good Manufacturing Practice. The draft is aimed at improving the quality of domestic-brand infant formulas, the reputation of which was seriously undermined by the tainted milk scandal in 2008, and it is seen as a signal to boost domestic milk production.
Fonterra CEO apologies
Yesterday Theo Spierings, CEO of Fonterra, apologised to Chinese consumers on Monday for a product contamination scare.
Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Spierings said that 90 percent of the affected products have been contained, with the remaining 10 percent to be recalled within two days.
Fonterra said on Friday that some of its whey protein concentrate produced in May 2012 was found to be contaminated with clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that can cause food poisoning. The concentrate was used in products including infant milk powder and sports drinks.
China's consumer quality watchdog said the contaminated products were exported to four Chinese companies, including Hangzhou Wahaha Health Food Co., Ltd., Hangzhou Wahaha Import & Export Co., Ltd., Shanghai Tangjiu (Group) Co., Ltd. and Shanghai-based Dumex Baby Food Co., Ltd.
Seeking to reassure Chinese consumers, the CEO said that processing methods would kill off the bacteria.
He also said that all the affected Dumex products on the market have been recalled, with some still in inventory. Meanwhile, New Zealand-based company Nutricia has also taken measures to recall its affected Karicare-brand dairy products.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the contamination of dairy products with a bacterium that can cause botulism was extremely serious and the government was deeply concerned about it.
Key, along with Trade Minister Tim Groser and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye, gave a televised press conference as the country began counting the cost to its reputation and economy after 38 tonnes of whey protein concentrate, some for use in infant formula, were been found to be contaminated.