Fonterra has slammed reports that China has closed its borders to New Zealand dairy products amidst concerns that three batches of whey protein concentrate (WPC) produced by the company are contaminated with Clostridium Botulinum.
In a statement issued earlier today, Fonterra revealed that it has received confirmation from the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) that Chinese officials have not implemented a blanket import ban on dairy products from the country.
The company confirmed, however, that authorities in China have temporarily suspended the importation of whey protein and dairy base powder produced by Fonterra.
“MPI has confirmed that China has not closed the market to New Zealand dairy products – and that China is being quite specific about the range of Fonterra products which it has temporarily suspended,” said NZ Milk Products managing director, Gary Romano.
“Whole milk powder and skim milk powder have not been suspended.”
MPI “not aware” of market closures
While the MPI “is not aware of any additional market closures,” it is attempting to clarify “reports that Russia appears to have put a temporary ban on New Zealand dairy products,” Romano added.
The Russian Federal Service for the Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare (CPS) announced over the weekend that it had ordered the “withdrawal from circulation of potentially contaminated Fonterra products, and the suspension of its imports into the Russian Federation.”
Reports have indicated that Vietnam has also installed a ban on New Zealand dairy products imports in response to the safety concerns.
In a statement, the Vietnamese Food Safety Bureau – a department of the country’s Ministry of Health – announced that it had ordered the state inspection agency to adopt a “stringent inspection criteria for Clostridium Botulinum in whey protein concentrate, raw dairy products, and processed products containing whey protein concentrate originating in New Zealand.”
Vietnam has also asked Abbott Laboratories to “stop and recall” products in the country that may be contaminated.
Earlier today, Nutricia announced that it has “instigated a precautionary recall in New Zealand” of two batches of its Karicare Infant Formula and one batch of its Karicare Gold+ Follow-on Formula after being informed of the issue by Fonterra.
“None of the products tested and sold in New Zealand indicate any contamination,” said Nutricia managing director, Corine Tap in a statement. “However, given the new information supplied by Fonterra, we have taken the decision to make a precautionary recall on specific products.”
In a near identical statement, Danone Dumex announced that it had also initiated a “precautionary recall” of several infant nutrition products in Malaysia.
Consumer “distress and anxiety”
Fonterra issued a food safety warning to several customers, including a number of infant nutrition product manufacturers, late last week over fears that three batches of Clostridium Botulinum-contaminated whey protein concentrate (WPC) may have entered the supply chain.
The company has since confirmed that none of its branded consumer products are affected by the issue.
Clostridium Botulinum bacteria produce nerve toxins that can cause botulism - a potentially fatal illness can cause muscle weakness, dizziness, double-vision, and breathing difficulties. Left untreated, botulism can lead to respiratory muscle paralysis.
Speaking at a press conference in China, Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings voiced regret at the “distress and anxiety that this issue could have caused” to consumers.
“We deeply apologise to the people that have been affected by the issue [and we] guarantee to you that food safety and the safety of the people of the Republic of China but also around the world is our first and foremost interest,” said Spierings.