News Column

New Zealand Dairy Safety Cast in Doubt

August 22, 2013

The New Zealand government was under fire over its food safety regulation again Wednesday after it was revealed that dairy giant Fonterra -- already dealing with the fallout over products contaminated with a botulism-causing bacterium -- had other products turned back from China because of excessive nitrate levels.

It is the third international food safety alert involving the country's dairy industry to be revealed in New Zealand this month after lactoferrin from Westland Milk Products was also found to have excessive nitrate levels after it arrived in China.

Primary industries spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party, Damien O'Connor, said a story on the China Daily website from July revealed that Chinese authorities stopped 42 tonnes of Fonterra milk powder entering China in May because of excessive nitrate levels.

China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine had detected the contamination in the powder, which was imported by two Shanghai companies.

O'Connor said in a statement that Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy had questions to answer over when he knew about the incident and why he kept the information from the wider dairy industry.

"Revelations about this ban on Fonterra milk powder come at a time of intense international scrutiny of our dairy industry," O' Connor said.

"New Zealand's reputation is at stake and the minister's handling of it so far has been totally inadequate."

The BusinessDesk news agency reported that a spokesman for Fonterra had confirmed that the 42 tonnes of product was tested in New Zealand, where it met specifications, before being shipped to China where it was tested again and failed to meet Chinese testing specifications.

"This can happen, for example, when different laboratories and testing methodologies are applied," the spokesman told BusinessDesk in an emailed statement.

"In this case, we chose to accept the Chinese laboratory results and implemented the necessary processes and documentation that is required for advising regulators in both China and New Zealand of non-compliant product."

On Tuesday, New Zealand' Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) announced it would step up regulatory oversight of the dairy industry after two international alerts involving the Fonterra botulism scare and the Westland nitrate contamination.

The measures included stepping up the regulatory presence in manufacturing premises; improving and expanding testing across dairy production and running simulations to test the industry's ability to track product through their supply chains.

The measures were an interim move pending the results of inquiries by MPI and the government into the Fonterra crisis.

New Zealand trade officials are still trying to deal with the international fallout over the Fonterra contamination, which occurred in May last year, but was revealed early this month after some of the product had already been exported.

Source: Copyright China Economic Information Service (Xinhua) 2013

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