Two more companies recall milk products

Updated: 2013-08-07 07:24

By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Four foreign brands now involved; concern among Chinese grows

Concern among Chinese parents over how many companies may be involved in the Fonterra baby formula scare grew on Tuesday, after two more foreign producers issued recalls.

Abbott Laboratories, based in the United States, and Britain's Cow & Gate both said they had taken action as a precautionary measure.

However, that has done little to allay fears among the public, as many continue to speculate whether more dairy products have been contaminated with botulin.

China's quality watchdog ordered Abbott to recall two batches of Gain Plus Stage 3, for babies older than 12 months, after being alerted by the New Zealand embassy in Beijing.

"No Abbott products for China used tainted whey protein from Fonterra, they do not pose a threat to health," the US company said in a statement. "The two batches were packaged on Fonterra's production lines, which were not thoroughly cleaned after producing the tainted products."

The company, said 7,181 boxes of baby formula made on May 2 will be destroyed. Just over 100 boxes had entered the mainland market.

On Saturday, Fonterra, the world's largest dairy exporter, revealed that tests on July 31 had found Clostridium botulinum in whey protein concentrate manufactured at its Hauptau plant in Waikato on May 2012.

The bacterium is one of the strongest toxins. It can destroy the human nervous system if ingested and can trigger neural paralysis in infants under 12 months.

Two dairy enterprises, including Danone Group, are known to have used the contaminated whey protein in its infant nutrition products. However, Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings declined to reveal the name of the other company at a media briefing in Beijing on Monday.

China Daily was unable to reach Abbott for a comment on Tuesday. However, news website quoted an unnamed public relations official who said: "I can assure you we're not the company ... and we've never requested Fonterra to conceal any information related to the incident. We want to know the name of the company, too."

So far, four foreign brands are involved in the scare: Dumex, Karicare and Cow & Gate, all subsidiaries of Danone Group, and Abbott.

According to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Cow & Gate has recalled 140,000 cans of its Stage 3 baby formula, 80,000 cans of which had entered the Hong Kong and Macao markets. Those in storage have been marked and sealed, the authority said.

NZ govt responds

Since Spierings' media briefing, the New Zealand government has said it has taken over responding to the contamination scare after criticizing Fonterra's handling of the crisis.

Economic Development Minister Stephen Joyce said officials had been sent to Fonterra premises in New Zealand and Australia to ensure the company provided accurate information and estimated that about 90 percent of the contaminated product had been found. While the Ministry of Primary Industry hoped to track down the rest by Wednesday afternoon.

The country's agricultural lobby has also urged Fonterra to be open with parents.

"There will be a reckoning, but now is not the time; the 'who, what, why, when, where and how' questions come later," Federated Farmers Dairy Chairman Willy Leferink said in a statement. "Right now, we owe it to our consumers here and abroad to give them facts and not speculation."

No plans to switch

Although some Chinese parents said the latest food safety scare had shaken their trust in foreign baby formula, most had no plans to switch to domestic products.

"After all, the pastures in Australia and Europe are much better, and there's a lot less industrial pollution," Liu Yang, a Shanghai father with a 1-year-old son, told China Daily. "I don't have a single friend or colleague who feeds their babies domesitic infant formula."

Ji Xiaodong, an assistant spokesman for Mengniu Dairy Group, told China Daily the company will continue with its strict quality controls to deal with imported milk powder in the market.

Experts urged domestic dairy producers to strengthen their operations before grabbing a bigger market share.

"Only 30 of the licensed domestic dairy producers are active in the market and have stable sales volume," said Zhuang Pei, deputy director of the Shanghai Commission of Economy and Information's metropolitan industry division.

China imported 445,000 metric tons of raw milk powder in the first half of this year, with approximately 83 percent coming from New Zealand, according to the Chinese customs authority.

The country has halted imports of whey protein powder and concentrate from New Zealand, and New Zealand officials fretted the milk powder scare will prompt China to widen the ban.

Ren Zhe in Shanghai, AFP and Reuters contributed to this story.