Fonterra says tainted milk off the shelves

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WELLINGTON: New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra moved to assure parents on Wednesday that tainted baby formula, which sparked global safety recalls had all been removed from retailer’s shelves.

Products containing a potentially deadly bug, which had been distributed from China to Saudi Arabia were no longer in the shops, Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings said.

“All the stocks have been contained, everything is out of the market. It’s in warehouses and there is little or no more risk for consumers,” he told reporters in Auckland.

Authorities have been scrambling to collect cans of formula since Fonterra revealed on Saturday that they contained a whey product contaminated with a bacteria that can cause botulism.

Spierings said there had been no reported cases of children falling sick after consuming the formula but acknowledged the scare had dented Fonterra and New Zealand’s reputation in Asia for producing safe, top-quality foods.

He said that Fonterra would investigate the cause of the scare, which has been blamed on a dirty pipe at a North Island processing plant, and seek to restore its brand.

The Auckland-based executive, who flew to Beijing this week to apologize, refused to say whether he should resign over the crisis, which threatens Fonterra’s leading role in China’s multi-billion dollar dairy market.

“It’s not up to me to answer, I will leave that to the board,” he said.

New Zealand exported more than NZ$13.0 billion ($10.3 billion) of dairy products in 2012, with China accounting for almost NZ$3.0 billion, according to official data.

Fonterra has a near-monopoly, handling 89 percent of the country’s milk production—15.4 billion liters in 2011.

But critics have accused it of failing to learn the lesson of a 2008 scandal, when six children died and 300,000 fell ill after a Chinese company it part-owned illegally laced milk with the chemical melamine.

AFP

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