China has stopped imports of all milk powder from New Zealand and Australia, New Zealand’s trade minister said on Sunday, after bacteria that can cause botulism was found in some dairy products and raised safety concerns that threatened a $9.4 billion annual dairy trade.
The dairy giant Fonterra, which is based in New Zealand, identified eight companies to which it had sold contaminated whey protein concentrate that was exported to China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Saudi Arabia, and used in products including infant milk powder.
Nearly 90 percent of China’s $1.9 billion in milk-powder imports last year originated in New Zealand, and economists said that a prolonged ban could produce a shortage of dairy products in China, including infant formula with foreign brands. The problem comes at a time when many parents in China are concerned about the safety of baby formula sold in that country. Many Chinese residents are already taking baby formula back with them when traveling overseas, and officials have begun to limit the amount they can carry.
Australia was caught up in the ban after some of the contaminated whey protein concentrate was exported there before being sent to China and elsewhere.
“The authorities in China — in my opinion, absolutely appropriately — have stopped all imports of New Zealand milk powders from Australia and New Zealand,” the New Zealand trade minister, Tim Groser, told Television New Zealand.
While there was no official word of a ban from the authorities in China, its consumer watchdog named four companies that had imported potentially contaminated products from Fonterra, the world’s fourth-largest dairy company.
In a statement on its Web site, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine identified the companies as Dumex Baby Food Company, a subsidiary of France’s Danone; two subsidiaries of the Wahaha Group, one of the largest beverage manufacturers in China; and the state-owned Shanghai Sugar, Tobacco and Alcohol company.
Fonterra, a supplier of wholesale dairy ingredients to multinational food and beverage companies, said that Coca-Cola’s Chinese subsidiary and animal feed companies in New Zealand and Australia had also been affected.
The State Food and Drug Administration in China announced on its Web site that it had told representatives from Hangzhou Wahaha, Dumex and Coca-Cola China to stop sales of potentially contaminated products and recall any outstanding product lines as soon as possible.
A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola said the company was preparing to recall select batches of its Minute Maid Pulpy Milky product line in China because it had used potentially contaminated whey protein. But it added that because of the heat-treatment process it uses, there was no risk to consumers.
“The recall is really a measure we are putting in place to reassure consumers, but because of our manufacturing process, our products are safe for consumption,” said Sharolyn Choy, group communications director for Coca-Cola Pacific.
Some of China’s biggest food and beverage companies are said to be customers of Fonterra.
Other countries also were reportedly halting imports and ordering recalls of New Zealand-made dairy products.
Russia suspended imports and circulation of Fonterra products, ITAR-TASS news agency said on Saturday, quoting the consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor. News media reports said Thailand had ordered a recall of Fonterra products imported since May.
In New Zealand, Nutricia, a division of Danone, recalled some types of infant formulas sold under the Karicare brand.
The bacteria behind the latest scare, Clostridium botulinum, is often found in soil. The Fonterra case was caused by a dirty pipe at a processing plant.
It can cause botulism, a potentially fatal disease that affects the muscles and can cause respiratory problems. Infant botulism can attack the intestinal system. (Source: NT Times)