Milk scare prompts apology

By Zhang Xiaobo and Hu Qingyun Source:Global Times Published: 2013-8-6 0:43:05

Theo Spierings, the CEO of New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, attends a press conference in Beijing on Monday. Photo: AFP

Theo Spierings, the CEO of New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, attends a press conference in Beijing on Monday. Photo: AFP

For more, see our Daily Special: Dairy giant Fonterra recalls infant formula under botulism alert

Fonterra, the world's largest dairy exporter, Monday apologized in Beijing for a milk powder contamination scare amid company recalls of potentially contaminated products made with ingredients imported from the New Zealand company.

"We really regret the distress and anxiety which this issue could have caused. We totally understand there is concern by parents and other consumers around the world," Theo Spierings, CEO of Fonterra, told a media conference in China, one of its biggest markets.

He added that all of the contaminated products will be recalled and controlled in the next 48 hours.

The apology came after the company's Friday announcement, which said some of its whey protein concentrate was found to be contaminated with clostridium botulinum that could cause botulism. Some of the products had been exported to China and processed into infant formula.

The contaminated whey protein concentrate, which was produced in May 2012, came to 38 tons, of which 20 tons have been sold directly to six companies, including three animal feed firms and three beverage companies, and the remaining 18 tons, after being processed by two of the Fonterra branch facilities in New Zealand and Australia into base powder, went into two companies for producing infant dairy, Spierings said.

The CEO said the products from the three beverage companies, including the Hangzhou-based Wahaha and Coke-Cola's China subsidiary, are safe as bacteria will be killed under high-temperature conditions, which is seen in the processing.

Even so, Wahaha and Coke-Cola recalled all the beverages, which were made with the contaminated whey protein concentrate, in an attempt to avoid unnecessary panic among Chinese consumers.

However, France's Danone and another company, which used the powder to produce dairy products but refuses to reveal its name, are affected by the tainted ingredients.

According to Spierings, Dumex Baby Food, a subsidiary of Danone, which owns 12 batches of affected products, has recalled half of them, with the rest still remaining in factories. A report released by Chinese regulators on Monday recommends against the use of some products of Karicare, also owned by Danone.

The company, which declined to be named, has also targeted the affected products and will release related information to the public soon, Spierings said.

Fonterra also revealed that the contamination had been caused by poor sanitary conditions in a pipeline, which was located in a New Zealand factory and seldom used, making it hard to sanitize through normal cleaning.

Amid doubts over why it took over a year for the company to make the contamination public, Spierings said that even though initial tests in March showed that some whey protein concentrate had been contaminated, most of the bacteria was benign, and the harmful ingredient was not found until July 31.

New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key blasted Fonterra's handling of the case, and said he was concerned at the impact on farm-reliant New Zealand's reputation as a supplier of "clean, green" dairy products, AFP reported.

"This case will definitely have an impact on the whole New Zealand milk industry, such as sale reduction and worsened reputation, breaking the blind trust of the public toward imported dairy products," Zhang Yongjian, a food and drug expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times Monday.

However, though the case is seen by some as a chance for domestic dairy companies to repair the damage done to their reputation caused by the 2008 melamine-tainted milk powder scandal, Zhang, as well as many other experts, claimed that it is still not easy for domestic companies to regain the public's trust in the short term.

A poll conducted by Sina Weibo proves the point, with 63.9 percent of 507 participants saying they still preferred imported infant formula.



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