News / Asia

Fonterra Under Fire Over Milk Scare; Product Recalls Continue

Fonterra logo photographed near the Fonterra Te Rapa plant near Hamilton, New Zealand, Aug. 6, 2013.
Fonterra logo photographed near the Fonterra Te Rapa plant near Hamilton, New Zealand, Aug. 6, 2013.
Reuters
Fonterra — the world's largest dairy exporter — came under fire from the New Zealand government, farmers and financial regulators for its handling of a food contamination scare that has triggered product recalls and spooked parents from China to Saudi Arabia.

The government sent officials to Fonterra premises to ensure a clearer message and to regain international confidence after New Zealand's biggest company was criticized for dragging its feet in saying it sold whey protein products that contained a bacteria that could cause botulism — a potentially fatal food poisoning.

“We will be conducting an internal review and this will be subject to external scrutiny as well,” said Gary Romano, Fonterra's managing director of New Zealand Milk Products.

The country's agricultural lobby urged Fonterra to be open with parents of infants about details of the contamination. “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.”

New Zealand's Financial Markets Authority said it was concerned about how long it took Fonterra to disclose the contamination issue. The company said it confirmed on July 31 that this was caused by a dirty pipe at one of its New Zealand plants, before issuing a media statement early on Saturday, three days later, and in an announcement to investors on Monday.

There have been no reports of illness resulting from the affected products, but the scare risks tainting New Zealand's “clean and green” image.

Finance Minister Bill English said the economy was likely to escape any significant damage as a result of the Fonterra scare, but there was some longer-term risk to the country's reputation.

“The economic impact of the amount of product currently under restrictions is sufficiently small [that] it wouldn't have a discernible impact on our GDP,” English said in reply to a question in parliament.

More recalls

On Monday, Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings said the company did not face a ban on its products in China, only restrictions on whey protein concentrate. He said he expected the curbs would be lifted this week as soon as Fonterra provides Chinese regulators with a detailed explanation of what went wrong.

China, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and other countries, however, have issued fresh instant formula milk product recalls, and the New Zealand government warned that China could extend restrictions on whey protein powder to other dairy products.

“So far, [there has been] very limited action. But this is likely to change, and it would change in the direction of wider, not narrower,” Trade Minister Tim Groser told reporters.

Fonterra is a major supplier of bulk milk powder products used in infant formula in China, but doesn't sell in China under its own brandname after local dairy company Sanlu, in which it held a large stake, was found to have added melamine — often used in plastics — to bulk up formulas in 2008. Six babies died then and thousands were taken ill.

China's consumer quality body said it ordered a recall of two batches of milk formula brands marketed by Abbott Laboratories, a day after some of the U.S. healthcare company's products were recalled in Vietnam. Abbot said the move was a precautionary measure after some of its milk formula brands, which did not contain whey protein concentrate sourced from Fonterra, were packaged in the Fonterra facility.

Cow & Gate recalled 80,000 cans of one type of its stage-three baby formula in Hong Kong and Macau. It said there were no signs of contamination in any of the products sold in the two regions. More infant formula tins were cleared from New Zealand supermarkets after Nutricia, part of French food group Danone that makes the Karicare brand, announced a blanket ban Monday on two of its infant products.

Sri Lanka suspended milk powder imports from New Zealand, while Brunei media cited its government as ordering a recall and the ban on the import, distribution and sale of Fonterra food products. Fonterra has not identified either of those countries as having been affected by the safety issue, though it has said products containing the contaminated whey protein had been sold on to Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

Dairy auction

At its fortnightly Global Dairy Trade auction, the world's biggest wholesale marketplace for milk powders and dairy products — most of which originate in New Zealand — prices fell for the first time in 6 weeks, while volumes jumped. Fonterra's GDT Price Index dropped 2.4 percent, following a 5.3 percent rise at the previous sale.

Ahead of the auction, analysts had said the event could help gage the likely impact of the contamination scare on prices and sentiment toward New Zealand dairy products, which command a premium over rivals. In the event, the drop in prices was less than the five to 10 percent that some analysts had predicted.

Dairy exports earn about a quarter of New Zealand's NZ$46 billion annual export earnings.

Units in Fonterra's Shareholders Fund, which offer outside investors exposure to the cooperative's farmer shareholder dividends, closed up 1.3 percent on Tuesday at NZ$6.95, erasing most of the previous day's losses.

“If Fonterra gets knocked as far as confidence is concerned, then the farmer gets knocked, because at the end of the day Fonterra is the farmer,” said William Stolte, a farmer in Masterton on New Zealand's North Island.

“And the farmer has to accept that... meanwhile, we have to keep milking the cows,” he said.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More