Another New Zealand diary product exported to China has been found to have quality issues, this time excessive levels of nitrates, raising further concerns by Chinese consumers about the safety of food from the country.
Lactoferrin powder, a multifunctional protein produced by New Zealand dairy company Westland Milk, was temporarily banned from import after two patches of the product, totalling 390kg and imported to China by Wondersun Dairy as an ingredient in other products, was found to have elevated levels of nitrates.
All other dairy products by Westland and lactoferrin powder produced by all New Zealand companies are required to provide results of nitrate level tests.
The New Zealand government has also been requested to conduct "thorough inspections of management systems and products of companies exporting to China to guarantee their safety", according to a statement by China's product quality watchdog, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
China requires all raw materials for baby formula to be tested to ensure nitrate levels are within acceptable levels. The imported lactoferrin powder was purchased as a raw material and had not reached consumers yet, according to the statement.
Westland said in a statement that the nitrate levels of the two batches, produced in its Hokitika plant, were of 610 and 2,198 parts per million respectively, higher than the maximum 150 ppm set by New Zealand standards. But it added that the nitrate levels did not constitute a food safety risk. The excessive level of nitrate was missed in Westland's routine test but picked up by its customer, Wondersun Dairy.
"Based on these results and our investigations to date, Westland [believes] it is an isolated incident in the lactoferrin plant only, where traces of cleaning products (which contain nitrates) were not adequately flushed from the plant prior to a new run of product," chief executive Rod Quin said in the statement.
The incident has dealt another blow to the image of New Zealand's dairy industry, which has long been a popular choice for mainland customers, after the country's biggest dairy exporter Fonterra announced earlier this month that some of its products were contaminated with botulism-causing bacteria.
"I have been avoiding baby formula from New Zealand. I also check whether baby formula from other countries sources milk from New Zealand," said Xiao Jun, a Beijing mother of a one-year-old boy.
Sun Li, mother of a three-year-old girl, said New Zealand baby formula would be off her shopping list for a while and she was studying German brands.
New Zealand announced plans for a government inquiry, along with two internal Fonterra investigations and another by the country's agricultural regulator, into how the contaminated products entered the global market.