China responding ‘constructively’ to Westland Milk nitrate issue, timing ‘unhelpful,’ Key says

Chinese officials have responded constructively to the discovery of excessive nitrate levels in milk products from Westland Milk Products that were shipped to China, Prime Minister John Key said.

The Ministry for Primary Industries today announced it had revoked export certificates for four consignments of lactoferrin made by Westland Milk after unacceptable levels of nitrates were found in two batches. The nitrates, reportedly from detergent products not properly flushed away in a plant in Hokitika, were missed in New Zealand testing, only to be picked up by a Chinese customer.

"The Chinese authorities were working very constructively with us over the weekend," Key said at his post-cabinet media conference. The nitrate find is regarded as a "technical breach" rather than a food safety issue, he said.

The nitrate tainted milk is the latest blow for New Zealand's dairy industry trying to contain the fallout from Fonterra's contaminated milk scare last month, sparked by the discovery of bacteria that can cause botulism. MPI acting director-general Scott Gallacher said his department, foreign ministry officials and the companies are "working closely with the Chinese authorities on this issue."

"Clearly we're operating in a more sensitive environment so it is particularly unhelpful," Key said in Wellington. The fact that it wasn't detected in the first instance "again sounds odd."

One batch of the Westland Milk lactoferrin was exported directly to China and a second was supplied to Tatua Cooperative Dairy Co before being shipped to China, the department said.

Gallacher said export certificates had originally been issued "based on testing of composited batches undertaken at the time of manufacturing, which showed no issue."

"We now know that is not the case and certification has been withdrawn," he said. "MPI has been advised by Westland, Tatua and their customers that a small proportion of the lactoferrin was used in consumer products. Almost all of these products are now confirmed as detained in the supply chain."

China's General Administration of Quality Supervision and Quarantine has halted all imports of Westland Milk product and asked other New Zealand producers of lactoferrin to provide nitrate test reports, Reuters reported.

None of the lactoferrin was used in New Zealand products, MPI's Gallacher said. The food safety risk for Chinese consumers was "negligible because of the quantities of lactoferrin used in consumer products was very small."

MPI has sent a team to the Hokitika factory to look into the contamination arose and to ensure it is just limited to the two identified batches. Westland chief executive Rod Quin said 390 kilograms of product was affected.

The two batches had nitrate levels of 610 and 2,198 parts per million, exceeding New Zealand's limit of 150 parts per million.

Earlier today, Fonterra denied claims in Sri Lanka that its products contain traces of a nitrate inhibitor known as DCD. The world's biggest dairy exporter was served with a 14-day ban in Sri Lanka after that nation's National Health Services Union won a temporary injunction to stop the sales.

DCD, or dicyandiamide, was found in some of Fonterra's milk powder last year which led to the voluntary withdrawal of fertilisers using DCD.

Early this month, Fonterra revealed it had discovered bacteria that can cause botulism in 38 metric tonnes of whey protein concentrate (WPC80) manufactured at its Hautapu plant near Cambridge and first picked up at a plant in Australia. It was used in the manufacture of infant formula, juice and dairy beverages, yoghurt, body building powder, and animal stock food.

(BusinessDesk)