Prime Minister John Key has swung in behind Fonterra in saying New Zealand dairy products are safe after some were found to contain traces of a nitrate-reducing chemical.
The reports have been widely circulated in the world media and have described the chemical, dicyandiamide (DCD), as “toxic.”
The Wall Street Journal, for one, has just carried a report balancing out its original story with denials from Fonterra that there is any health risk.
This morning, Mr Key has described these reports as misinformation and says the DCD traces have been found only at Fonterra's Clandeboye plant in South Canterbury.
He says he “was totally confident [the industry] was on top of it as it is not a health issue.”
A person would have to drink an amount equivalent to a swimming pool to be in any risk from the chemical, he adds.
Meanwhile, Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings has reiterated that the products of the world's largest dairy exporters are safe.
"We have strong science and we are providing assurances about the safety of our product," he said in an emailed statement to the Bloomberg new agency.
"Our testing has found only minute traces of DCD in samples of some of our products. Our products are safe. Customers can rest assured."
Earlier, the Ministry of Primary Industries said DCD was being used only by about 500 of the country's 12,000 dairy farmers.
The ministry announced sales of fertiliser containing DCD had been suspended, a move that has been criticised by local councils and environmentalists because it inhibits the leaching of nitrates into water.
"New Zealand's reputation is based on the high quality of food we produce," said Carol Barnao, the Ministry of Primary Industries’ deputy director of general standards.
"Because no standard exists, the detectable presence of DCD residues in milk could be unacceptable to consumers and our international markets, even in the small amounts found in recent testing."
In some countries there was a zero tolerance for residues when no standard existed.
The ministry is investigating the process to have a maximum allowable residue level set, if necessary, but this could take more than five years. It is also in a working group with the fertiliser and dairy industries to investigate future use of DCD.
Fonterra, Federated Farmers and Dairy NZ all welcomed the decision to stop use of DCD.
However, Local Government New Zealand expressed concern at the suspension of DCD, which is intended to help minimise the environmental footprint of farms by improving water quality and reducing greenhouse gas liabilities.
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