Fonterra whey alert delay criticised

AAPThe West Australian

Fonterra is being asked to explain why it took four months to reveal contamination in its whey products, with the New Zealand government questioning why it didn't set aside the affected products straight away.

The company announced on the weekend that its whey - used to make infant formula and sports drinks - has been found to contain a toxic bacteria that can cause botulism.

It can prompt nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting, paralysis or even death.

The company says early tests in March identified a strain of bacteria in the whey, although the toxic Clostridium botulinum was not confirmed until last month.

Eight of its customers in seven countries - New Zealand, Australia, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vietnam - are potentially affected.

China and Russia - which hasn't been named as an affected country - have had the most extreme reactions, suspending all imports of Fonterra products.

French-owned global dairy products manufacturer Danone is recalling infant products in New Zealand and China, while the Chinese division of Coca-Cola and water company Wahaha Healthfood are also recalling products.

Prime Minister John Key is concerned about the impact the scandal will have on New Zealand's reputation as a safe dairy exporter, and is critical of the time Fonterra took to go public.

"When you've got a company that's our largest company, our largest brand, our largest exporter, that is the flagship for New Zealand, and your whole business is about food safety and food quality, you'd think they'd take such a precautionary view ... that it would just be discarded until they were absolutely sure it's right," Mr Key told TVNZ's Breakfast.

He says the Ministry for Primary Industries has more than 60 staff working around the clock on the issue, amid concerns the scandal will damage confidence in New Zealand dairy products abroad, particularly in China.

In New Zealand, two products manufactured by Nutricia Karicare - Infant Formula Stage 1 and Stage 2 Follow-on Formula - are being recalled due to the potential of contamination, and Fonterra animal feed subsidiary NZAgbiz is recalling calf milk replacer.

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