Global alert for life-endangering bacteria in NZ dairy products

WELLINGTON - New Zealand warned international health authorities Saturday of exported dairy products, including infant formula, containing a bacteria that could lead to botulism -- a potentially fatal illness.

The government said the contaminated whey protein concentrate, or products using this ingredient, had been exported to Australia, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Dairy giant Fonterra, which manufactured the product more than a year ago, said eight customers had been advised and were investigating whether any of the affected product was in their supply chains.

If necessary, contaminated consumer products would be recalled, the company said in a statement.

There have been no reports of any illness linked to consumption of the affected whey protein.

New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said health authorities around the world, including the World Health Organisation, had also been alerted to the contamination.

"As soon as New Zealand authorities were notified of this risk, we immediately acted to inform relevant authorities around the world," Groser said.

"This has included formally notifying Infosan, the World Health Organisation's international food safety regulators network. As more information on this issue is confirmed we will provide our trading partners with further updates.

"We understand that the markets to which contaminated whey protein concentrate, or products using this ingredient, has been exported are Australia, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vietnam."

Fonterra said the affected product was used in a range of drinks including infant formula and sports drinks.

"We are doing everything we can to assist our customers in ensuring any product containing this ingredient is removed from the marketplace and that the public is made aware," Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings said.

Dairy exports are New Zealand's major earner and its products are particularly popular in Asia, where they are considered the gold standard.

According to government data the dairy industry contributes 2.8 per cent to New Zealand's GDP and is worth NZ$10.4 billion (US$8.1 billion) annually.

New Zealand accounts for one-third of the world's cross-border trade in dairy products.