An exporter selling New Zealand-made infant formula in China
has been shocked by the swiftness with which sales fell
through the floor after news of an agricultural chemical's
presence in Kiwi milk products broke in the Chinese media
Simon Page, co-founder of Auckland's Biopure Health, said the
debacle over the nitrate inhibitor dicyandiamide (DCD) had
been a public relations disaster for our dairy industry and
the Government needed to take more action to convince
consumers in the world's second biggest economy that this
country remains a safe source of milk.
"There is an opportunity to enhance our world-leading food
safety reputation by inviting Chinese officials to New
Zealand to explain what the DCD product is, where it was
applied and reassure that no contaminated milk will reach
China," said Page.
"An accompanying film crew should document the trip for
Beijing to broadcast across state news channels."
Biopure Health had seen its turnover doubling every week
since the firm opened its network of New Zealand Milk Bar
retail stores in China's Sichuan province last year, Page
But he said sales promptly went "to zero" when customers
found out about the presence of small amounts in DCD in New
Zealand dairy products after the publication of a Wall Street
Journal article that questioned the safety of this country's
Customers had even been returning formula to stores and
asking for refunds, Page said.
Statements such as "NZ milk is poisonous" and "Chinese-made
milk free from DCD" had been made in the Chinese press,
alarming consumers still spooked by the melamine scandal
which left six babies dead and thousands more sick after the
toxic industrial chemical entered China's milk supply in
Chinese retailers had been hiking prices for French, Dutch
and Australian-made infant formula because of demand as
consumers became wary of buying New Zealand-made products,
He said sales of Biopure Health's Infapure formula had picked
up since the Ministry of Primary Industries released an
announcement clarifying issues around DCD on Sunday, which
resulted in more "level headed" Chinese media coverage, but
they still had not returned to normal levels.
Fonterra has been criticised for failing to address the issue
when the presence of DCD first became known late last year,
but the company has since taken steps to ease the concerns of
Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings has said he supported
the voluntary suspension of DCD sales by the chemical's two
manufacturers in this country, Ravensdown and Ballance
Agri-Nutrients, and said the minute traces of the chemical
found in samples of dairy products were 100 times lower than
acceptable levels under European food safety limits.
He said he was "absolutely not concerned" about the potential
effect on Fonterra and the company's sales had not been
The Ministry of Primary Industries said DCD did not present a
food safety issue and the withdrawal of the chemical from
sale meant it could not enter New Zealand's milk supply.
Carol Barnao, MPI's deputy director of general standards,
said New Zealand's ambassador to China, Carl Worker, held a
press conference in China yesterday regarding DCD. A top
Fonterra executive and a Chinese agricultural expert were
Page said a more strategic approach needed to be taken when
major dairy industry-related announcements were made.
Fonterra Shareholders Fund units have dropped 3.5 per cent
since last week, closing down 8c at $7.05 last night.
- Christopher Adams of the New Zealand Herald