Prime Minister John Key says a new scare over dairy products
exported to China has come at the worst time possible, but he
has downplayed concerns it will further sour New Zealand's
reputation in China.
Yesterday, the Ministry for Primary Industries announced 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.
Mr Key said the products posed no food safety risk and all
had been traced and quarantined in China.
He said 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 was a different issue to that
posed by the botulism scare because it was not a food safety
issue and the products had not made it to 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."
Mr Key said Government ministers were told of the issue in
the middle of last week and he was told on Friday. He
defended the decision not to go public immediately, saying
none of the product was in the New Zealand market and the
primary concern was working with the Chinese authorities to
ensure they had all the required information.
He said the Chinese authorities were working closely with New
Zealand authorities and had so far treated it as a technical
breach of export regulations, rather than a food safety
Labour Party primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor
said the revocation of the export certificates showed the
extra scrutiny New Zealand was now 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."
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 its products.
Ministry staff had visited Westland's factory and the problem
appeared to be an isolated event.
- Claire Trevett of the New Zealand Herald