Milk scare: China questions New Zealand purity

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings, center, looks at his managing director of China/India Kelvin Wickham as they are surrounding by Chinese media. Photo / AP
Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings, center, looks at his managing director of China/India Kelvin Wickham as they are surrounding by Chinese media. Photo / AP

China is questioning New Zealand's '100 per cent pure' brand as headlines worldwide bring attention to Fonterra's milk formula scandal.

"For a long time, New Zealand has marketed its products overseas as being `100 per cent pure', and this has been especially true of its dairy products,'' China's state-owned news agency, Xinhua said. ``However, Fonterra has had a series of problems and this is beginning to shake the confidence of some Chinese consumers in its `100 per cent pure' milk powder.''

Karicare products from New Zealand have been banned in China since Sunday.

Headlines in Saudi Arabia have gone as far as saying, ``Important warning: New Zealand Milk Kills Children in Saudi Arabia''.

Some countries are looking to ban products that contain whey protein concentrate while others have banned all dairy products from New Zealand.

Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Malaysia were looking at bans, but Trade Minister Tim Groser said the precise nature of restrictions by those countries was unclear.

Russia has banned all dairy products from New Zealand, and Mr Groser said he would work with Russia over their ban.

"Ninety million dollars of this is butter and spreads and $2 million is milk powder. I've never heard anyone suggest for one nanosecond that butter could be possibly implicated in this.''

Mr Groser raised the melamine poisoning of milk in 2008 and said it caused more serious short-term problems for New Zealand.

"Since then our dairy exports have tripled, so short-term it's not realistic to think we're not going to take a hit. But long-term depends on the relationships we've got and how quickly we respond and how professionally.

"It would be naive to think we were going to get away without a bloody nose,'' Mr Groser said.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) has sent employees to work alongside Fonterra staff in New Zealand and Australia, following revelations that batches of whey protein had been contaminated.

Minister of Economic Development Steven Joyce said MPI wanted to ensure the problem was contained to a level they are satisfied with.

Prime Minister John Key said the Government was "deeply concerned'' about the Fonterra scare.

Fonterra's chief executive Theo Spierings said the five month gap between traces of an often harmless bacteria being found in a batch of whey powder and the Aug public notification of a botulism risk was unavoidable.

Extensive testing was conducted to determine the exact type of bacteria, because there were more than 100 strains of clostridium and not all caused food safety risks, he said.

Mr Spierings apologised to New Zealand parents. "We understand the distress and level of anxiety.

"But we are operating 32 sites in New Zealand alone and this is a sanitation issue which should not happen, but human errors in life do happen and this is quite a severe consequence which we are trying to manage.

"The facts really are that 90 to 100 per cent [of the affected product] has been taken out [of the supply chain].''

No children had suffered adverse affects to date, Mr Spierings said.

- additional reporting by Patrice Dougan, Kate Shuttleworth, BusinessDesk

- NZ Herald