Prime Minister John Key says a new scare over dairy
products exported to China has come at the worst possible time,
but he has downplayed concerns it will further sour New
Zealand's reputation in China.
The Ministry for Primary Industries announced yesterday it
had revoked export certificates for products made from two
batches of lactoferrin produced by Westland Milk Products
after testing by Chinese authorities found elevated nitrate
levels - which were not picked up in testing in New Zealand
before the product was sent.
The announcement comes after the Government asked lawyer and
director Miriam Dean to chair the Government review into the
Fonterra food scare.
The inquiry will be jointly led by Primary Production
Minister Nathan Guy and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye.
The ministers issued a statement yesterday stating it would
be ''a joint ministerial-led government inquiry'' divided
into two parts.
The first part would look at how the potentially contaminated
whey protein concentrate entered the New Zealand and
international markets and how it was addressed.
The other part would look at regulatory best practice
requirements, including the response of regulators.
The inquiry would report back on any recommended legal,
regulatory or operational changes, they said.
Following the latest incident, Mr Key said the products posed
no food safety risk and all the lactoferrin had been traced
and quarantined in China.
He did not know why testing in New Zealand had not picked up
the elevated nitrate levels before the products were
exported, which would be investigated.
However, the latest development comes after China put in
place import bans on Fonterra whey powder and set up greater
testing of other dairy products from New Zealand in the wake
of the discovery some Fonterra whey was contaminated with a
bacterium that causes botulism.
Mr Key said the lactoferrin problem was a different issue to
that posed by the botulism scare because it was not a food
safety issue and the products had not reached consumers.
''But it is certainly unhelpful and couldn't come at a worse
time. Clearly, we are operating in a more sensitive
environment, so it's particularly unhelpful.''
The Chinese authorities were working closely with New Zealand
and had so far treated it as a technical breach of export
regulations rather than a food safety issue.
Labour primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor said the
revocation of the export certificates showed the extra
scrutiny New Zealand was under.
''It is terrible timing when New Zealand's reputation is
already on the line. The public must be assured New Zealand
products are being tested to the highest standards and
accurate beyond challenge.''
Primary Industries Ministry acting director Scott Gallacher
said the affected products had all gone to China in exports
by Westland Milk and Tatua Co-operative Dairy, which had used
some of the lactoferrin in their products.
Ministry staff had visited Westland's factory and the problem
appeared to be an isolated event.
• An emergency Work and Income grant was given to a concerned
infant formula buyer in Dunedin after the Fonterra botulism
contamination scare earlier this month.
A Ministry of Social Development spokesman said the Work and
Income special needs grants covered the cost of returning
recalled infant formula or buying new infant formula.
The grants were available to New Zealanders with urgent and
necessary needs who had no other way to meet emergency costs,
The grants did not have to be repaid.
The amounts paid for the product recall were not available.