China ups tainted milk alert

CHINA - China stepped up warnings to consumers yesterday over a botulism scare involving products from a New Zealand dairy company, and has demanded that affected importers check their sales records.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) said it was "warning consumers" following an alert over bacteria that could lead to the potentially-fatal paralytic illness.

Fonterra, one of New Zealand's biggest dairy exporters, said three batches of whey product - which is used to make infant formula and sports drinks - had been found to contain the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can lead to botulism.

Quality inspectors in Shanghai have ordered baby-formula firm Dumex to "track down its sales records", the state media reported on Sunday.

In a statement on its website, AQSIQ also called on the New Zealand government to "take effective measures" to ensure the safety of dairy products exported to China following the scare.

Dumex has produced 726 tonnes of its milk-powder products with the Fonterra product and 420 tonnes have already been sold in China's domestic market, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing statistics from the authorities.

The other two companies ordered by China's Food and Drug Administration to stop selling products containing questionable ingredients were Hangzhou Wahaha and Coca-Cola's Chinese subsidiary.

Wahaha said it had used the Fonterra ingredient in soft drinks and had not detected any bacteria. Coca-Cola said in a statement it had used 25kg of the affected powder for its Minute Maid drinks, but the "super-high temperature" used in production meant it would be safe to consume. However, the firm added that it was nevertheless recalling the affected products.

Yesterday, Fonterra's chief executive apologised for the scare, but denied accusations that it delayed releasing information, adding that the firm had informed customers and the authorities within 24 hours of confirming the contamination problem.

Mr Theo Spierings said: "We deeply apologise to the people who have been affected. We totally understand the concern among parents. Parents have the right to know that infant nutrition and other dairy-related products are 100 per cent safe."

About 95 per cent of China's milk-powder imports from January to March came from New Zealand. There have been no reports of any illness linked to consumption of the affected Fonterra product, which was made in May last year, although the contamination was confirmed only last week.