New Zealand officials "blew the whistle" on the sale of
contaminated milk linked to the death of at least one baby in
China, Prime Minister Helen Clark says.
The contaminated milk powder was sold by New Zealand dairy
giant Fonterra's Chinese joint venture partner, Sanlu --
raising fears the scandal could taint New Zealand's
reputation in the massive market.
Fonterra yesterday revealed it had been aware of the
contamination since mid-August, despite a full public recall
only being initiated last week.
But Miss Clark today said Fonterra had pushed for a full
recall at the earliest possible opportunity but had been
blocked by Chinese local government officials.
"They have been trying for weeks to get official recall and
the local authorities in China would not do it," she said on
TVNZ's Breakfast programme.
Miss Clark said the first she knew about the issue was on
September 5. Three days later she convened a meeting of
senior ministers at which she ordered officials to leapfrog
the local officials and immediately inform their superiors in
"As you can imagine when New Zealand Government blew the
whistle in Beijing a very heavy hand then descended on the
local authorities," she said.
"At a local level...I think the first inclination was to try
and put a towel over it and deal with it without an official
recall. That is never what we would do in New Zealand."
Miss Clark said she hoped the scandal would not affect
Fonterra's reputation, but it showed to the company it could
not be "naive" in its foreign operations and had to insist on
its own high standards.
"I think Fonterra, from the advice I have had, has behaved
responsibly at all times, but it has been dealing in a
political system at a local level in China where the
inclination is to cover things up, but I have to say once we
blew the whistle in Beijing they moved very fast."
The milkpowder poisoned with melamine, an industrial chemical
which can boost the apparent protein content in some standard
tests on food, is reported to have killed one baby and made
another 432 sick with kidney damage.
Trade Minister Phil Goff last night told NZPA other major
dairy companies, such as Nestle, had been caught up in
similar scandals in the past and it was possible several
other companies had also supplied the contaminated
Fonterra has a 43 percent stake in Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group
Co Ltd, which ordered a product recall on September 11.