The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has revoked export certificates for four China-bound shipments of dairy protein, lactoferrin, after nitrate levels in excess of national standards were discovered in related batches.
The Wellington-based regulator announced earlier today that permits attached to the consignments, which were derived from two batches of lactoferrin manufactured by Westland Milk Products, have been withdrawn.
It took the decision after being alerted by Westland that the two batches, which totalled 390kg, had been found to contain nitrate levels of 610 and 2198 parts per million (ppm).
The New Zealand maximum limit for nitrates is 150ppm.
“Negligible” food safety risk
One of the two affected batches was exported directly to China as an ingredient. the other was supplied to New Zealand-based Tatua Cooperative Dairy Company, which later exported it to China. The tainted batches have, however, been traced and quarantined, Westland and the MPI confirmed.
Despite its decision, the MPI believes that the food safety risk to Chinese consumers is “negligible.”
“…the quantities of lactoferrin used in consumer products was very small, meaning the nitrate levels in those products would easily be within acceptable levels,” said MPI acting director-general Scott Gallacher.
Despite the MPI decision, Westland has denied that the affected lactoferrin posed any risk to consumers.
“Food safety is not the issue in this instance because lactoferrin is used as a very minor ingredient in food products. This means that, even if the lactoferrin with elevated nitrates had been added to food, the retail products would still have nitrate levels significantly below allowed limits,” said Westland CEO, Rod Quin.
As a precaution, Westland has placed a temporary block on its lactoferrin stocks and commenced re-testing of all individual batches. According to company, all lactoferrin products tested have produced results well below the country’s nitrates limit.
“Based on these results and our investigations to date, Westland is of the view it is an isolated incident in the lactoferrin plant only, where traces of cleaning products (which contains nitrates) were not adequately flushed from the plant prior to a new run of product,” said Quin.
“Our investigation is underway to establish the root cause and we have implemented corrective action, so we can ensure this does not happen again,” he added.