A botulism scare that sparked global recalls of Fonterra milk products was a false alarm and there was never any danger to consumers, New Zealand officials said after new tests.
The crisis led to infant formula being taken off shelves from China to Saudi Arabia earlier this month and damaged New Zealand's "clean, green" reputation in key Asian markets.
However, New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries said a barrage of tests ordered after it sounded the alarm confirmed a contaminant was not the potentially fatal clostridium botulinum - a bacterium that produces several toxins - but a milder bug called clostridium sporogenes - a harmless soil-dwelling bacteria.
"It is therefore not capable of producing botulism-causing toxins," the ministry said. "There are no known food-safety issues associated with clostridium sporogenes, although at elevated levels certain strains may be associated with food spoilage."
It said the initial tests had pointed to botulism contamination but subsequent checks on a further 195 samples in laboratories in New Zealand and the United States showed no sign of the bacteria. "We are very, very relieved that this is not a food-safety issue and that none of the children in the world were affected by this event," said Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings.
China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said the administration needed time to study the findings before allowing recalled whey protein powder to be used in production again.
Beijing did not say whether it had carried out its own tests. But Dumex, a dairy product brand under Fonterra, said Shanghai's quality watchdog informed it on Tuesday that tests by mainland authorities showed that none of the 14 batches of the recalled products were contaminated.
Song Liang , a dairy industry analyst at the Ministry of Commerce, said the new findings would ensure baby formula from New Zealand gradually returned to the market.