Fonterra halted China-bound milk powder in May for high nitrite levels

Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:15am EDT
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By Naomi Tajitsu and Megha Rajagopalan

WELLINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) - New Zealand's Fonterra, the world's biggest dairy exporter, caught up in a contamination scandal this month, said on Thursday it was also forced to withdraw 42 tons of milk powder bound for China because of high nitrite levels.

Dairy products account for about a quarter of New Zealand's export earnings, and China is its biggest buyer of milk powder.

The high nitrite levels were first brought up by the official China Daily in late July and have dealt another blow to the company after it announced this month that it had found bacteria that could cause food poisoning in some products.

Fonterra had to apologize for a milk powder contamination scare in China after contaminated whey protein concentrate had been sold to China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Saudi Arabia, and used in products including infant milk powder and sports drinks.

The company said on Thursday a shipment of powder had also been halted at the Chinese border in May after tests showed nitrite levels higher than allowed in China, although it had been approved for export after testing in New Zealand.

Nitrites occur naturally in water, soil and food and can be used as fertilizers and preservatives. Excessively high levels can be toxic.

Fonterra's group director of food safety and quality, Ian Palliser, said the milk powder showed nitrite levels of between 1.4 parts per million and 1.8 ppm when it was shipped from New Zealand, but showed higher levels in Chinese tests.

"The limit is 2 parts per million in China and the product tested at somewhere between 2.4 ppm and 2.8 ppm," Palliser told Radio New Zealand.   Continued...

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully is seen behind Chinese and New Zealand flags during a group interview in Beijing August 22, 2013. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic