August 19th, 2013
It’s Westland Milk Products’ turn, it would seem. But it also seems that Westland is handling this better than Fonterra has handled its food safety crises. It was while following links on a completely different, but equally worrying topic that I stumbled across this piece in the National Business Review:
New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries has revoked export certificates for four consignments of lactoferrin made by Westland Milk Products after unacceptable levels of nitrates were found in two batches.
Westland itself says in a media statement dated 19 August 2013 (and I guess the content of that link is likely to change over time):
Chief Executive Rod Quin said Westland had reported to the Ministry of Primary Industries that two batches of lactoferrin (totalling 390kg) showed nitrate levels of 610 and 2198 parts per million respectively. The New Zealand maximum limit for nitrates is 150 parts per million. The product was initially not identified as non-compliant during Westland’s routine testing regime prior to export. All of the 390kg of non-complying lactoferrin was sent to China.
“We immediately initiated a process to find and quarantine all of the product and it has been put on hold,” Quin said.
Westland also put a hold on all of its lactoferrin in its own warehouse and commenced re-testing all individual batches. All other lactoferrin product tested to date has returned results well below the New Zealand nitrates limit. No other Westland products were affected.
“Our investigation is underway to establish the root cause and we have implemented corrective actions,” Quin said, “so we can ensure this does not happen again.”
Which strikes me as being the right way to go about things – immediately notify the authorities and quarantine the affected product, test everything, figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Compare that with Fonterra’s apparent habit of long delays and drip-feeding of information.
According to information on the AQSIQ website, China’s Wandashan [Wondersun? Can’t make that link open, though] Dairy Co. Ltd. is taking the main responsibility for food safety after an unusual nitrate content was found in lactoferrin produced by New Zealand’s Westland company.
AQSIQ has already been in touch with New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries over this to verify the situation of the affected products. AQSIQ has already required the relevant inspection and quarantine bodies to seal the affected products. At the same time it has decided to temporarily halt imports of lactoferrin produced by Westland and requires all lactoferrin from New Zealand and Westland’s other dairy products to supply nitrate testing reports at the time of import.
AQSIQ requests the New Zealand government to completely examine the management systems and products of manufacturers shipping to China in order to guarantee safety.
So, Wandashan was the Chinese customer and AQSIQ is not happy with the safety of New Zealand food products.
But I have two questions:
- Dates! When was the lactoferrin in question produced? Just how quickly did Westland respond to this issue?
- Was Wandashan really the only Chinese company to buy the affected lactoferrin? Because both the Herald and NBR report that some of it was exported directly to China, while some was sold first to Tatua Cooperative Dairy Co. before being exported to China.
It certainly seems Westland is handling this issue better than Fonterra handled the DCD and botulism incidents, but without any dates to go by, how can we know?
Speaking of Fonterra, it’s not out of the woods yet. Here’s yet another article announcing the shattering of the New Zealand myth, an article that states:
If only domestic brands learn from past lessons winning back the market is not the dream talk of a fool
Now them’s fighting words! But there’s much stronger to come. It says that since the Fonterra botulism incident, the previously worshipped New Zealand milk powder has tumbled from its altar and that imported milk powder has lost its halo. This article sets up two “watersheds” or “divides”. I think “divide” is the image it’s looking for, as in a mountain range either side of which the water flows in opposite directions. The first divide is 2008’s Sanlu melamine milk scandal, which destroyed any trust Chinese consumers had in the domestic dairy industry and sent everybody scurrying for imported infant formula. The second divide is this month’s Fonterra botulism scandal which has caused people to rethink their views on Western brands – especially considering most of China’s imported dairy produce comes from New Zealand and Fonterra is by far the biggest supplier. After reminding us that this is by no means Fonterra’s food safety incident by mentioning Fonterra’s 43% stake in Sanlu (but, oddly, not mentioning the DCD scandal earlier this year) and that Fonterra and several other foreign companies have recently been done for price fixing, the article goes on to compare the prices of imported infant formula with domestic brands. Apparently over 10 imported brands are charging more than 500 yuan (but it gives us no unit), while one Yili brand goes for 156 yuan per 900 gram can. And some imported brands cost twice as much in China as overseas. And then:
For a long time domestic milk powder brands have suffered a serious “crisis of faith” among domestic consumers, while foreign dairy companies have used a high price strategy to increase their profits, sparing no efforts to creat a kind of “the higher the price the safer” concept of consumption.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Fonterra or another foreign dairy company, they all grabbed a tight hold on the psyche of Chinese consumers, unceasingly amplifying consumers’ feeling of crisis, and the prices of foreign milk powder also rose with Chinese consumers’ demand.
Now that is quite an accusation. Foreign companies have been deliberately stoking people’s fears in order to increase their profits? Well, ads for infant formula do tend to play on parental anxieties, showing how their formula, through an alphabet soup of pseudo-science, guarantees that babies fed that particular formula will grow up healthier, stronger and smarter than everybody else. And anybody buying their powder from Fonterra has played up the “clean, green, 100% pure New Zealand” thing. “Has played” because Fonterra has given that image a hell of a beating this year.
Then, having lamented the inability of domestic dairy companies to capitalise on foreign food safety scandals, the article states:
In reality, imported milk powder is processed in factories in China. According to AC Nielsen’s statistics, milk powder importers use the dry blending method to produce their formula and account for around 70% of sales in the China market. And of the products of the few milk powder importers dominating the China market, over 90% is produced using the dry blending method in factories in China. Only a tiny amount is imported in original packaging.
A milk powder industry insider said, “It’s generally acknowledged that dry blending produces an uneven mix, while milk powder produced through wet blending meets the standards for high quality infant formula, with a more even balance of nutrition, and it’s fresher.”
Compared with “Western milk powder”, domestic milk powder like Mengniu, Firmus, Yili and Wandashan have established their own milk suppliers and use the wet blending method.
The article also accuses foreign milk companies of hooking their customers while they’re still pregnant, quoting one Ms Qiu, who is expecting herself, as saying that at the classes for expectant mothers that doctors promote:
they all give out gifts of imported milk powder samples.
Now, somehow I don’t think it’s only the foreign companies that do this, and I’ve certainly heard of much dodgier methods of bringing in new customers, like buying the contact details of expectant mothers from the hospitals – heh, my own wife did get the occasional out-of-the-blue phone call from infant formula companies. But I’ve never before heard of only foreign companies employing dodgy methods like this.
Now, lunch is calling, and apart from the final section of the article being devoted to Mengniu, that’s all that grabs me from this piece. All I can say is it reads like another salvo in the fight to swing Chinese parents away from imported formula and back to domestic brands. And all those pixels devoted to Mengniu…