Chinese to audit infant formula makers

A team of four Chinese authorities will soon be auditing some of New Zealand's biggest infant formula manufacturers.

Last year China's border clearance agency announced new measures to strengthen the safety and quality of imported infant and toddler formulas available on the Chinese market.

They include requirements for all infant formula manufacturers exporting to China to be registered by May 1.

Ministry of Primary Industries spokesman Brad Young said the audit was a "sample audit" of New Zealand's dairy production and regulatory system.

"We're unable to provide details of those businesses involved in the audit. However, nine businesses will be visited by Chinese authorities, consisting of manufacturing premises, a farm and a laboratory.

"While these businesses will be visited, it's the system as a whole and the management of that system that will be examined."

Infant Nutrition Council chief executive Jan Carey said it was not unusual for a country to audit an industry when you are exporting to that country. "But it is the first time the Chinese have audited the [New Zealand] industry."

Ms Carey understood the audit would include industry giant Fonterra and Chinese-owned Synlait.

The future for Kiwi infant formula exporters to China is at a crossroads. On one hand, exports of "food preparation for infants" from New Zealand to China have leapt from $100 million to $161m in the past two years.

The Chinese cannot make enough infant formula to meet national demand, and hold New Zealand products in high regard. But the gloss has been tarnished by a series of unfortunate events.

The latest was last year's scare that led to Fonterra warning that its products may contain a type of bacteria that can cause botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning. The warning, along with Fonterra's inability to identify where the products were in the world, raised alarm among parents in New Zealand and overseas.

Eventually it was concluded the scare, which caused an international product recall, was a false alarm.

A subsequent Government inquiry cleared New Zealand's food safety regulations.

The Dominion Post