Baby formula

New Zealand trade body calls for more milk data

Chamber of commerce says better information about ingredient suppliers should be available and would help improve infant formula safety

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 August, 2013, 5:40am

The chairman of New Zealand's chamber of commerce in Hong Kong has called for greater transparency about the supply chain for cans of infant formula on sale in the city.

David Whitwam said more information about the suppliers of the various ingredients that go into milk formula should be available to parents.

He said greater transparency would also help isolate the source of any future incidents surrounding the safety or quality of milk formula.

"I think there may [in future] be some clarity in advertising around where the infant formula is supplied," he said.

Whitwam praised New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra's response to the recent discovery of a potentially fatal botulism-causing bacteria in several brands of the company's infant formula, saying it had been honest and open.

He said the whole of New Zealand's dairy industry had suffered a blow to its reputation from the incident, including companies not involved, and that greater transparency about the supply chain would prevent such spillover effects.

"I think there will be a reaction to other milk powder producers … and that's not very fair," he added.

Currently, milk powder imported into Hong Kong is sourced from across the globe. The same company may market several brands produced in different countries.

For example, American corporation Wyeth sells Wyeth Illuma Stage 1 in Hong Kong, which is produced in Ireland, as well as Promise Gold Stage 4, which is made in Singapore.

Other brands on sale in Hong Kong include Friso Gold Stage 2, from the Netherlands, and Cow & Gate Stage 3, from New Zealand.

Moves towards greater transparency would fall in line with recommendations from the Hong Kong Academy of Pharmacy, which demanded to know the major suppliers behind the manufacturers of several leading milk formula brands in the city.

Whitwam said the academy's demands were "unhelpful" in the current situation.

"The best people in a position … to give confidence to the consumer market are those people who are in possession of all the facts, and it is those people giving the market confidence to buy products which are safe," he said.

He insisted there was no danger in consuming dairy products from New Zealand, but said he could not rule out future incidents. "Of course, there are going to be little incidents from time to time, but we are a food-based economy," he said.

"If something gets through, the first thing is to front up and say, 'Hey, we've got a problem,' - don't hide the problem and hope it goes away. That doesn't work in the consumer market."

The commerce chief said there would be no long-term impact on dairy exports from New Zealand to Hong Kong, worth HK$5.4 billion, and to the mainland, worth HK$30 billion, due to the "responsible" actions taken by Fonterra, which controls 90 per cent of New Zealand's dairy market.

He described the rogue whey protein concentrate responsible for the recent contamination as a big problem, but also a "one-in-a-billion issue".

Whitwam stopped short of a personal apology to consumers in Hong Kong. He said many apologies had been made by Fonterra already.

"The apology has already come from Fonterra multiple times. They've apologised in China, in Hong Kong and New Zealand. There's been more apologising than attention to the problem."