A Chinese-controlled dairy company in New Zealand, Synlait Milk, is rejecting a claim it changed the expiry date on milk powder exported to Nigeria to extend its labelled shelf life from one year to two years.
Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) claimed that a local importer, Carnco Foods Nigeria, deliberately altered the actual expiry date on Synlait milkpowder containers to increase the products' shelf life but Carnco said that the expiry date was changed by the manufacturer "to correct a printing error".
But Synlait Milk chief executive John Penno tonight told NZPA that the expiry date was changed by an agent who originally bought the milkpowder for distribution in China, and Synlait was not involved in the Nigerian deal.
It was part of a much bigger consignment that had to be redirected out of the intended market, China.
"We're aware of this transaction -- we like to follow where our product goes," Mr Penno said. "It was redirected with our knowledge.
He said the powder went to the Nigerian market with a two-year shelf life but it had been sitting on wharves in Nigeria so long that it was now past its expiry date and not fit for human consumption.
Asked if the milkpowder had a two-year shelf life when it left the Dunsandel factory, Mr Penno said: "Yes, all of our product goes out with a two-year shelf life."
"We did not alter the expiry date, however the primary market required the original documentation to have a one-year shelf life... when it was moved to the secondary market, there was an alternation made in the market from one to two years.
"It was a change made by the agent," said Mr Penno, who said whole milk powder normally had a life of two years.
Synlait had sold the product to the agent: "It was owned by the intermediary at that point -- we had no involvement with the transaction through to Nigeria".
Carnco is battling at the Federal High Court in the country's capital, Lagos, for the release of half the 14 containers of New Zealand milkpowder intercepted at the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, in Lagos.
NAFDAC noticed that the product's "life span information" had been altered and filed an affidavit in the lawsuit that a laboratory analysis found the milkpowder to "expired and unfit for human consumption".
Carnco denied NAFDAC's claim that it deliberately altered the actual expiry date and the expiry date was changed by the manufacturer to correct a printing error, The Nation newspaper reported. .
The agency's affidavit said that seven of the 14 containers "mysteriously disappeared" from the port while samples were being analysed.
Synlait Milk was launched in 2005 to process milk from Synlait farms. Last year one of China's biggest dairy companies, Bright Dairy, invested $82 million to take a 51 percent stake in the processor.