Tainted milk enters Indonesia via Batam

INDONESIA - The government has finally decided to ban the importation of all infant formula products entering Indonesia via Batam Port as a precautionary measure, following the global tainted milk scandal hitting one of New Zealand's biggest dairy companies, Fonterra.

"We heard from Fonterra's representative that some countries, including Malaysia and China, have used contaminated whey protein concentrate [WPC] in their dairy products.

"So we will investigate whether products from those countries have entered Indonesian markets or not," Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) deputy chief for food safety and hazardous substance control Roy A. Sparringa told The Jakarta Post at his office after a meeting with Fonterra New Zealand on Wednesday.

According to media reports, the Chinese and Malaysian governments have taken action by recalling infant formulas containing the Clostridium botulinum bacterium after Fonterra New Zealand announced that the company had exported the material to eight countries earlier this month.

Fonterra said Danone Dumex Malaysia was one of the companies using WPC and had recalled some of its infant formula in Malaysia.

Roy said, however, that some products of Danone Dumex Malaysia, such as Dumex Mamex Cherish Step 1 and Dumex Dupro Step 2, had entered Indonesia illegally through Batam and could be distributed throughout the country.

"Only some batches of these two products are contaminated by the bacterium," he said.

He said the public should check the batch numbers of previously bought products made by Danone Dumex Malaysia.

"We warn the public not to feed their infants these contaminated products and return the products so we can take measures," he said.

Roy also said the government would take samples of the infant formula, which originated from New Zealand.

"We want to make sure that none of the contaminated products are available on the Indonesian market," he said.

A spokesperson from Danone Indonesia for milk products, Putri Realita, could not be reached for comment as of the writing of this article.

Indonesia is a promising market for infant formula. According to 2007 data from the Indonesian Demographic and Health Survey, the consumption of infant formula increased to 30 per cent from 15 per cent in 2004.

Indonesia also came second after China as the most influential market for infant formula, according to the Indonesian Lactation Council.

The discovery of the poisonous bacteria in Fonterra products is reminiscent of Indonesia's own tainted history in infant formula back in 2008, when research conducted by the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) found that infant formula had been contaminated by the Enterobacter sakazaki bacteria.

At that time both, the BPOM and the Health Ministry refused to make a public announcement about the brands involved and ignored a Supreme Court ruling ordering the ministry to reveal the names of formula containing the sakazaki bacteria.

"Based on our observations of consumers, not many mothers know much about infant formula," said Huzna Zahir of the Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation (YLKI).