Chinese consumers regard New Zealand milk products as less safe than those produced in our key dairy competitors like the United States and Europe, Massey University research suggests.

The university surveyed 531 people in Lanzhou, the capital of China's Gansu province, in October last year - two months after Fonterra's botulism botch up.

The false food scare spooked consumers in the world's second biggest economy and is likely to have influenced the survey results.

Just over 28 per cent of respondents rated New Zealand's dairy products as "not very safe", a much higher percentage than for products from Australia (14.8 per cent), the US (13.2 per cent) and European Union (12.5 per cent).


This country fared much better than China in the survey, however, with 64.9 per cent of respondents rating Chinese dairy products not safe.

Almost 72 per cent of those surveyed regarded New Zealand dairy products as "very safe", compared with 87.6 per cent for European products, 85.1 per cent for Australian products and 86.9 per cent for US products.

Massey University professor of food safety and microbiology Steve Flint said that if the botulism scare did affect the survey, the research demonstrated the power of publicity in influencing people's trust in food.

"In New Zealand we pride ourselves on our reputation as a provider of safe food to the world," he said.

"Our economy is based on this reputation."

Flint said it was important that Prime Minister John Key generated positive media coverage that restored Chinese consumers' confidence during his visit to China. New Zealand exporters have raised concerns that many Chinese consumers know about the botulism scare but remain unaware it was false alarm.

The Prime Minister went on a "media blitz" in Beijing yesterday — including interviews with major TV channels — and was scheduled to dine with Chinese President Xi Jinping last night.

In an interview with CCTV, Key highlighted the fact that the botulism scare had been a false alarm. Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said the survey results were a concern, but Chinese consumers' confidence in our dairy products would have improved since October.

"I would be very confident that in 12 months' time those survey results would look far more favourable to New Zealand."

Dairy exports to China grew strongly last year, despite the botulism scare.