Several countries have banned imports of milk powder from New Zealand’s dairy giant Fonterra following a food contamination scare. Malaysia has joined China, Russia and Vietnam in taking products off the shelves.
The company’s chief executive, Theo Spierings, travelled to China to apologise after the discovery of bacteria that could cause botulism, a rare illness that can prove fatal. He insisted milk products were safe as the bacteria would be killed during processing.
China experienced its own tainted milk scandal five years ago.
“Domestic brands are no good, and now foreign brands are no good either,” said Zheng Zhiqing, a 66-year-old grandfather. “I have no idea how to choose. Domestic brands were exposed before… now New Zealand brands have been too. We need to discuss it with the baby’s parents.”
Fonterra said problems only came to light following tests carried out earlier this year. But New Zealand’s prime minister said the products were made 15 months ago and accused the company of a delay in raising the alarm.
In Auckland some parents agreed: “If Fonterra is really this concerned about consumers, then consumers would have had the right to know straight away,” said one mother.
There have been no reported cases of botulism as a result of the contamination. But Margaret Dietrich, a nurse at Plunket parenting support centre said it had had a huge increase in the number of calls: more than double the usual number on Saturday, followed by four times as many on Sunday and Monday.
Fonterra says there’s been no blanket ban of its products and it expects curbs to be lifted this week. But the import restrictions could damage New Zealand’s reputation as a dairy exporter in an industry vital to the country’s economy.