NZ ministry apologises to China for residue in milk powder

The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has apologised to the Chinese government for the way it announced that a chemical residue had been found in Fonterra milk powder.

Stuff.co.nz reports that documents released under the Official Information Act show that the MPI made a great effort to make sure that the Chinese had not been insulted by the issue.

The documents show that MPI deputy director-general Carol Barnao wrote to food authorities and regulators in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, Macao, Singapore, Taiwan and China in late January and early February.

In her letters Barnao explained why DCD, which had been used as an environmental aid in New Zealand, had been taken off the shelves. It explained how many samples had been tested as positive in, or exported to, each of those countries and the maximum detected level of contamination.

Barnao had also written to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine in Beijing a few days earlier.

Noting that the Chinese regulator "might appreciate hearing direct" from the ministry, she said, "You might also be interested to know why we considered it necessary to go public with this release, when there is no food safety issue in the products derived from animals that might have grazed in pasture where DCD had been applied last spring.

"You will know that New Zealand takes the stance that we like to make known any findings we have that suggest there are new or unexpected results connected with agricultural practices . . . On this occasion, because there were no food safety implications from the DCD findings, we did not go proactively to counterpart regulators with advance warning of the press release.

"With hindsight we recognise that you would have been better equipped to deal with questions if you had known beforehand. I apologise if our omission inconvenienced you."

Low levels of DCD were found in Fonterra milk powder samples last September. The levels of residue were so low that they didn’t represent a threat to public health.

However, controversy has surrounded the way the issue was handled and the way interested parties were informed of the problem.


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