Pharmaceutical & Food
More warnings issued over NZ milk scare; Fonterra apologizes
Last Updated: 2013-08-05 21:09 | Xinhua
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China's consumer quality watchdog issued a warning Monday morning over two potentially tainted New Zealand-made Karicare-brand infant formula products because of botulism concerns.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) issued a consumer alert after receiving a warning notice from the New Zealand Embassy in China at midnight Sunday.

In the notice, New Zealand's Minister for Primary Industries advised consumers to suspend the consumption of the two potentially contaminated products. However, the minister did not say whether or not they will recall them.

The products are Karicare stages 1 and 2 infant formula.

AQSIQ said it has urged the New Zealand government to check and provide detailed information of potentially tainted products. It issued a similar warning for three batches of Karicare-brand dairy products and announced a list of four companies that have imported potentially contaminated products from New Zealand dairy company Fonterra on Aug. 4.

Shanghai-based Dumex Baby Food Co., Ltd., one of the four Chinese companies on the list, has sealed up potentially tainted dairy raw materials and products and initiated preemptive recalls on Aug. 4, according to Shanghai quality authorities.

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra announced on Aug. 2 that tests of some ingredients used in infant formula and sports drinks have turned up a type of bacteria that could cause botulism, a rare but sometimes fatal paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin.

This is the second contamination issue involving Fonterra this year. In January, dicyandiamde, a potentially toxic chemical, was found in some of its products.

Fonterra's chief executive, Theo Spierings apologized on Monday for the contamination scare at a media briefing in Beijing.

"There is no need for public panic as no illnesses have been reported yet, but the scandal may urge Chinese consumers to rethink their unsuspecting favor for foreign-branded baby formulas," said Wang Dingmian, former director of the Dairy Association of China.

Foreign-branded infant formula has become a premium commodity in China since Chinese dairy company Sanlu was found to have added kidney-damaging melamine to bulk up formulas. It caused six deaths and hundreds of illnesses in 2008.

"Actually many Chinese testing and technologies excel those of New Zealand, as China has a rather strict testing system on dairy products," Wang said.

Zhang Dezhong, general manager of Henan-based Sansege Dairy Company, said the authorities carried out compulsory tests on 25 items throughout production of milk powder since 2008 and many companies had extra tests to ensure product quality.

"Due to poor cooperation among supervision bodies, there are loopholes in some links," said Chen Lianfang, a dairy industry analyst.

The incident may not dent the Chinese consumer's favor for foreign-brand baby formula too much. It may only add to confusion on choosing dairy brands, Chen said.

Liu Suwen, mother of a two-year-old baby, said it has been a headache to find the right milk powder for her baby after the Fonterra scandal.

"I have changed five brands of baby formula, and now I have almost lost confidence in foreign as well as Chinese milk powder products," she said.

To win back consumer trust, Chinese diary enterprises should learn lessons and implement top safety standards, said Chen Shangwu, a professor with College of Food Science & Nutritional Engineering of China Agricultural University.

In the latest scandal, many Chinese companies did not test for botulinum as it is not compulsory, according to Sansege Dairy's Zhang.

"Problems may pop up at every link through the production of dairy products. All related stakeholders from watchdogs to dairy enterprises should dedicate themselves to ensuring dairy product safety," Chen Shangwu said.

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