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China seizures raise fears for New Zealand's global dairy reputation

By RJ Whitehead , 13-Nov-2012

Numerous consignments of baby formula made in New Zealand have been prevented from entering China after authorities branded them substandard. Now it has come to light, the issue is raising concerns that the ensuing Chinese media coverage might potentially damage New Zealand’s global reputation as a safe producer of dairy products.

According to the People’s Daily newspaper, China's Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) more than half of the 270 tonnes of infant formula and milk powder that was either returned or destroyed between August 2011 and October this year came from New Zealand and Australia. 

Melamine memories still strong

The news has prompted the state-run Xinhua news agency to canvass consumers to find out their level of concern following AQSIQ’s rejections—not least in light of the 2008 melamine scandal, which still looms large many parent across the country. The affair led to  a huge increase in demand for imported formula.

Xinhua quoted one shopper as saying: "Now that expensive foreign milk powder products are also flawed, I wonder if there is any milk powder that is safe enough to feed my one-year-old daughter."

The New Zealand Herald has reported that a large number of Chinese baby formula companies have created false fronts by registering in New Zealand to give the impression that they were Kiwi firms.

Blow for reputation

The Auckland daily quoted Chris Claridge, managing director a Christchurch-based infant formula exporter Carrickmore Nutrition, as saying that some of the product rejections in China were “questionable”, and that coverage would tarnish all New Zealand infant formula brands.

Michael Barnett, independent chairman of the newly formed New Zealand Infant Formula Exporters Association, said the group was working to set standards for exporters, while establishing a "line of communication" with Chinese authorities.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Primary Industries told the paper that its figures for non-compliant food exports to China did not match some of the figures the Chinese media had used in this story, although the ministry was concerned about any New Zealand-made products being denied entry to overseas markets.

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