News Column

Fonterra Removes Contaminated Infant Formula

August 5, 2013

New Zealand dairy company Fonterra said Monday that 90 per cent of the infant formula contaminated by the bacteria that causes botulism has been recalled from shop shelves, and the remainder will be removed within 48 hours.

Fonterra on Saturday ordered an international recall of milk products after discovering that whey produced in May 2012 had been contaminated with clostridium botulinum after passing through a dirty processing pipe.

"There is still 10 per cent out there which is being identified and will be taken off the shelves within 24 to 48 hours," company chief executive Theo Spierings told a press conference in Auckland by phone Monday.

China is Fonterra's biggest customer, and Spierings had travelled there to discuss the crisis with Chinese authorities and corporate customers.

The whey has been exported to customers in Australia, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vietnam for use in a range of products, including infant formula, milk powder and sports drinks.

Groupe Danone, which used the whey product in its Nutricia infant formula, has issued recalls of its products in China and New Zealand.

Fonterra said there have been no reports of any illness linked to the contaminated whey.

The firm blamed the 12-15 month supply chain process in producing whey powder for infant nutrition for the delay in alerting consumers about the contamination.

Fonterra first identified a potential problem in March when a product tested positive for clostridium. Spierings said it did not act then because there were hundreds of strains of the bacteria, most of which were harmless.

"There are multiple hundreds of possibilities which took time between March and July (to identify)," he said.

"Food safety is top of our minds, that's why when we got the news we acted straight away. We understand the distress and the level of anxiety because we understand that parents have the right to know that what they feed their children is 100-per-cent safe."

Spierings said he had offered an apology to China and Asia generally.

The managing director of Fonterra subsidiary NZ Milk Products, Gary Romano, said Chinese officials imposed a limited ban on imports of Fonterra products.

"The Chinese authorities have temporarily suspended importation of whey powder and dairy base powder, which is a whey-based dairy ingredient used in the manufacture of infant formula produced by Fonterra or produced in Australia using Fonterra's whey protein powder," he said.

"Whole milk powder and skim milk powder have not been suspended."

Romano said the Ministry for Primary Industries was seeking clarification of reports that Russia had temporarily banned the import of New Zealand dairy products.

Spierings said Fonterra would step up regular audits on its infant nutrition factories.

The Vietnam Food Administration ordered the local distributor of a baby formula to recall 10 infected lot numbers imported since July, Tuoi Tre newspaper said.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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