Fonterra response 'won't damage NZ'

Fonterra’s response to a major food safety scare was ‘‘quite acceptable’’ and should not damage New Zealand’s reputation in China, a senior Chinese government figure says.

Last year Fonterra sparked an international food safety scare when it warned that some ingredients, including those used in infant formula, may contain a bacteria which cause botulism, but it was not sure where the products were.

The warning caused a number of companies to block New Zealand products from entering, including China, where the dairy sector has seen massive growth.

Eventually, it was revealed that the scare was a false alarm, but Fonterra admitted problems with its processes.

Yesterday a senior Chinese government official indicated that steps taken by Fonterra meant the reputation of New Zealand should not suffer lasting damage.

Chen Xiwen, director of the Central Rural Work Leading Group, a position at ministerial level, said that ‘‘everybody in China was aware of the incident’’ involving Fonterra. Nevertheless he said he had told Prime Minister John Key in a meeting that New Zealand still had a top reputation among Chinese consumers.

‘‘Everybody sees that Fonterra made a lot of good gestures, like call back of products and making all kind of remedial actions, which is quite acceptable, and still protects the reputation of Fonterra, both Fonterra products and New Zealand products,’’ Chen said through an interpreter.

However, he warned that other mistakes would be damaging.

‘‘If this kind of accident keeps happening all the time, of course the reputation would be ruined.’’

Prime Minister John Key has said he will travel to China to deliver the finding of a report into the botulism scare, which found that steps could be taken to improve New Zealand’s readiness for product recalls and food safety testing.

Chen was in New Zealand to meet government officials and deliver a lecture on the challenges facing China’s agricultural sector, including a growing gap between supply and demand caused by the country’s strong economic growth.

Fairfax Media