By Naomi Tajitsu
WELLINGTON Aug 3 New Zealand's Fonterra
, the world's largest dairy exporter, said on Saturday
it had found bacteria which can cause botulism in some of its
dairy products, prompting China to recall affected products.
New Zealand authorities said they were holding back some
widely used infant formula products from supermarket shelves.
Fonterra said it had sold New Zealand-made whey protein
concentrate contaminated with Clostridium Botulinum to eight
customers, including food and beverage companies and animal
stock feed firms, for possible use in infant formula, body
building powder, and other products. None of its own branded
products were affected, it said.
The Ministry of Primary Industries said Fonterra had told it
the products in question were exported to Australia, China,
Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
China, which imports most of its milk powder from New
Zealand, asked domestic importers to recall any products which
may have been contaminated by the bacteria, and ramped up
scrutiny of New Zealand dairy products coming into the country.
Fonterra, New Zealand's largest company has been planning to
launch its own branded milk formula in China, five years after
melamine-tainted infant formula killed at least six there and
made thousands ill.
Russia has suspended imports and circulation of Fonterra
products, Russian ITAR-TASS news agency said on Saturday,
quoting the country's consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor.
Fonterra said it was up to companies to announce recalls,
adding that none had done so yet. It would not comment on the
level of contamination found in the whey protein product.
"At this stage, no product recalls have been announced,"
Fonterra said in a statement.
It said three food companies, two beverage companies and
three animal stock feed manufacturers were affected.
Chinese state radio said Fonterra was notifying three
Chinese firms affected by the contamination.
China's product safety agency said it had asked New Zealand
to take immediate measures to "prevent the products in question
from harming the health of Chinese consumers".
"The administration has also asked importers to immediately
recall any possibly contaminated products and has required all
local quarantine and inspection bodies to further strengthen
inspection and supervision of New Zealand dairy products
exported to China," the General Administration of Quality
Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in a statement.
Clostridium Botulinum is often found in soil. The Fonterra
case was caused by an unsanitary pipe at a processing plant.
The bacteria can cause botulism, a potentially fatal disease
which affects the muscles and can cause respiratory problems.
Infant botulism can attack the intestinal system.
The Ministry of Primary Industries said five batches of
Karicare formula manufactured in New Zealand for babies aged six
months and older were produced using the contaminated product.
Karicare is made by Nutricia, which operates in New Zealand,
and supplied by Fonterra. The brand is popular in China.
The MPI said it had been informed by Nutricia that one batch
was on a ship, another was in storage in Australia, while the
remaining three were in a warehouse in New Zealand.
All of these products would be held back from the market and
the MPI advised against using them.
"Since the levels necessary to cause illness are small, our
focus now is on establishing whether any product available in
markets is affected at all," an MPI spokesman told Reuters.
FONTERRA CHIEF TRAVELS TO CHINA
Fonterra is a big supplier of wholesale milk powder to
Chinese dairy firms and also supplies multinational food and
It said there had been no reports of any illness linked to
the affected whey protein, and that fresh milk, yoghurt, cheese,
spreads and UHT milk products were not affected.
The company said Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings would travel to
China from Europe at the weekend to discuss the issue.
China has started to tighten dairy import regulations to
improve overall food safety. In recent weeks, Beijing has
introduced regulations restricting the operations of smaller
infant formula brands.
Foreign-branded infant formula is a prized commodity in
China, where consumers are distrustful of domestic brands given
a series of food safety scandals. Popular foreign brands include
Nestle, Danone and Mead Johnson.
While Fonterra is a major supplier of bulk milk powder
products used in formula in China, it had stayed out of branding
after Chinese dairy company Sanlu, in which it had held a stake,
was found to have added melamine to bulk up formulas in 2008.