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Fonterra apologises for tainted milk scare

World's biggest dairy exporter admits it found botulism-causing bacteria in some of its products.

Last Modified: 05 Aug 2013 11:24
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Fonterra, the New Zealand based company at the centre of a contaminated milk scare, has apologised to its customers, saying it is doing everything it can to rectify the situation.

The world's biggest dairy exporter said on Monday that it had found bacteria in some products that could cause botulism.

China, company's largest customer, has banned imports of milk powder from New Zealand over fears of botulism.

The company said contaminated whey protein concentrate had been exported to China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Saudi Arabia and used in products including infant milk powder and sports drinks.

At a media briefing in Beijing Fonterra's chief executive, Theo Spierings, said food safety was the company's top priority.

"We really regret the distress and anxiety which this issue could have caused," he said.

"We totally understand there is concern by parents and other consumers around the world. Parents have the right to know that infant nutrition and other dairy products are harmless and safe."

Precautionary measure

In China, Spierings said that products from two companies, Coca-Cola Co and Chinese food firm Wahaha, were safe because any bacteria would be killed during processing.

Protein drinks made by Auckland-based Vitaco Health Group Ltd, another Fonterra customer, were also unaffected for the same reason.

A third company in China, Dumex Baby Food Co Ltd, a subsidiary of France's Danone, has told Fonterra that 12 batches could have been affected, he said.

Half have been recalled as a precautionary measure and the other half remain in factories.

He added that the company was not facing a ban on its products in China, only restrictions on whey protein concentrate.

Spierings said the latest problem originated in a pipe in a factory in New Zealand that was seldom used, so a normal cleaning was not sufficient to sanitise it.

Baby milk safety

China has restricted New Zealand imports of whey products, but Spierings said he expected the curbs will be lifted as soon as the company furnished a detailed explanation of what went wrong to Chinese regulators early this week.

The safety of baby formula became a sensitive issue in China after milk tainted with the chemical melamine left six children dead and sickened more than 300,000 in 2008.

Also Vietnam has ordered an immediate recall and halt of circulation of a milk powder manufactured by Fonterra.

Russia's Ria Novosti news agency reported Moscow was "recalling Fonterra's products, including infant formula and advised Russian consumers not to buy the company's other products".

Singapore and Malaysia have also recalled some Fonterra-linked baby milk products, saying it was a precautionary move.

Fonterra accounted for 89 percent of New Zealand's milk production in 2011.

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