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Chemical contamination

New Zealand reassures Chinese consumers in wake of Fonterra DCD crisis

By RJ Whitehead , 28-Jan-2013
Last updated on 29-Jan-2013 at 17:18 GMT

New Zealand’s government has started a PR offensive to limit the impact of last week’s revelations that low levels of chemical residue were discovered in dairy products from the country, and Chinese consumers find themselves high on its charm list.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) claimed that "very low levels" of dicyandiamide (DCD), which had been found by dairy giant Fonterra Cooperative Group in a random sampling last September, do not pose a food safety risk to consumers.

Seeking to allay “confusion” over the suspension of DCD use in New Zealand, Wayne McNee, MPI’s director general, stressed the safety of New Zealand milk products.

Poses no risk

"The detection of these small DCD residues poses no food safety risk,” said McNee.“DCD itself is not poisonous. It is not used directly in or on food in New Zealand and never has been. It is a product used on pastures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the leaching of nitrogen into waterways.”

It is telling that the ministry’s webside hosts a letter of assurance as well as media statements in both English and Chinese. China has had its own well-documented issues with dairy safety over the years, and its population is extremely sensitive to suggestions of chemical scares—not least when they are linked to a supposedly safe haven like New Zealand. The country’s dairy products account for nearly 80% of China’s import market.

According to reports from China’s Xinhua news agency, China's quality watchdog has asked New Zealand authorities to present a detailed risk assessment report on the country’s dairy products.

Detailed report

In response to consumers' concerns, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said it had met with the New Zealand ambassador to China, Carl Worker, and asked for a more detailed report from Kiwi authorities.

Fonterra Cooperative Group was once a shareholder of Chinese brand Sanlu, which became the centre of a notorious scandal in 2008, when Sanlu's melamine-tainted protein powder resulted in the deaths of at least six babies and made 300,000 others sick.

Meanwhile, the DCD story may still cause another panic among consumers, who worried about the price surge of unaffected dairy brands. FoodNavigator-Asia recently reported how many supermarkets across the Asia-Pacific region have resorted to rationing their milk formula stocks as a result of Chinese residents and visitors stockpiling the products.

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