Substandard NuZealand?

December 1st, 2014

This morning I saw this article in Yangzhou News, attributed (but not linked) to Beijing Business Today, reporting that 纽睿智 infant formula from New Zealand was on AQSIQ’s October list of substandard imported food and cosmetic products. Unfortunately there’s precious little information beyond that in the article, and searches of AQSIQ’s website aren’t turning up any more. But a little time on Google turns up this – 纽睿智’s website, with the English name ‘NuZealand’, and this, a tiny stub of an article that confirms NuZealand infant formula was on the October list of substandard products and gives two more details – it was 8197kg of product that failed inspection and was recalled, and it was made by New Zealand Dairy Products Limited, whose website seems to confirm, with a faintly-coloured link at the bottom of the front page, it produces NuZealand milk products. Also, on their products page, clicking on pictures of the NuZealand-branded products takes you either to the 纽睿智 page linked above, or to this page.

Now I do not know how much truth there is to these reports, and the lack of confirmation on AQSIQ’s own website doesn’t help. But that tiny stub of an article on linked above ends with this paragraph:

新 西兰奶粉一直是国内妈妈追求的好品质奶粉,不过,由于中国需求量大,很多不良企业开始大量进口一些品质不好的奶粉进入中国市场,希望谋求高额利润。虽然 新西兰有着优质的奶粉品牌,不过,不一定新西兰奶粉就是好奶粉,希望广大消费者能够通过正规渠道,选购知名度较高的奶粉品牌,防止一些品质差的小品牌混入 中国市场。

New Zealand milk powder is good quality milk powder that has been consistently sought after by Chinese mothers, but, because Chinese demand is large, many bad companies have begun bringing some poor quality milk powder into the Chinese market, in search of large profits. Although New Zealand has good quality brands of milk powder, New Zealand milk powder is not necessarily all good. We hope that consumers can go through proper channels to buy better-known brands of milk powder to prevent poor quality brands from mixing into the Chinese market.

Now there is a very important warning that all New Zealand businesses exporting, or wanting to export to China really need to take on board. It’s a warning that’s been out there for a few years now. If you’re exporting to China, especially if you’re exporting food and/or products aimed at Chinese children, you’d better make sure your quality and safety standards are beyond perfect. China’s tolerance for substandard imports came to an end some time ago.

Cross-posted to my LinkedIn.

three manys?

November 20th, 2014

With Xi Jinping visiting New Zealand there is naturally an upspike in mentions of New Zealand in the Chinese press. Naturally, these mentions tend to be about Xi’s visit, but there are other things too. Things like this rather odd little article, attributed to Zhou Qiyuan of Nanjing Daily. “New Zealand has ‘three manys'”, the headline proclaims, “Many sheep, many birds, and many old people”. It then goes on to explain each of those ‘many’s one by one. It’s a pretty short article, so I’ll just translate the whole thing.

It starts with the ‘many sheep’:


New Zealand is a modernised agricultural country. The grasslands through all four seasons. Farm management is advanced, and only cattle and sheep can be seen, but no people. The whole country has a population of four or five million, but there are 20 million sheep. Exports of wool, sheep skin and sheep meat products occupy an important place in the economy. It has been called “a country riding on the sheep’s back”.


There’s lots of interesting news about sheep in the media. Not long ago a sheep escaped from shearing and hid in a mountain cave, living in the wild 2 years before it was found by the farmer. In honour of its tenacious spirit searching for freedom, the farmer announced an amnesty for it: its wool would never be shorn again.


New Zealand has many birds, and the birds like to fly out of the forest. They get along well with people because people like to share delicacies with them, rather than catch them. Wild pigeons, seagulls, sparrows, and other birds search for food in the centre of the capital Wellington. People sit on park benches resting and  breaking bread and biscuits to feed the birds, a sight full of leisure and harmony.

在新西兰,到处能看到老人开车。别担心,他们从年轻时就开始开车,早已轻车熟路。新西兰有一句歇后语就是:“老爷爷开车—四平八稳。”新西兰航班上竟然有 “空中老太”,她们都是以前的空姐、空嫂。新西兰的退休制度比较灵活,有按时与超时两种选择,到退休年龄,如果你愿意延期,而且体检合格,就可以继续工 作,所以这里的各行各业老人有很多。

Everywhere in New Zealand you can see old people driving cars. But don’t worry, they’ve been driving since they were young, and are long comfortable with the car and familiar with the road. New Zealand has a saying: “An old man driving a car – stable and steady”. On New Zealand flights there are “air old ladies” – former air hostesses. New Zealand’s retirement system is relatively flexible, and one can choose between ‘on time’ or ‘over time’. On reaching retirement age, if you want to keep working and you are fit, you can continue to work, so in every industry you can see many old people.

And that’s it.

What a strange, strange article. Granted, it’s been a long time since I’ve lived in New Zealand, so things have certainly changed, but as I’ve been preparing to return to New Zealand I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the NZ media and internet, and nothing I have read, seen or heard suggests NZ has changed quite that much. Let’s look at it ‘many’ by ‘many’:

  1. Many sheep. Yawn. The same old stereotype. At least they managed to update the numbers – when I was a kid it was “3 million people and 60 million sheep”, but economics has intervened since then – there’s much more money to be made in milk than wool, apparently. Still, ‘four or five million’ suggests Zhou hasn’t been overly diligent about getting accurate figures, and last I heard the saying was “built on the sheep’s back”, and applied equally to both NZ and Australia. Don’t forget, Australia’s most populous region is the southeast, the area inside the dog fence, which is traditionally sheep-farming country – for more, see “Waltzing Matilda”, and translate the lyrics into something approaching standard English.
  2. Many birds. On seeing that, I would’ve expected something about NZ’s native avifauna, which is pretty special in many ways. Remote islands do tend to have quite unique ecosystems. But no, pigeons, seagulls and sparrows. Of downtown Wellington. I grew up in Wellington, and I honestly can’t remember anybody expressing any fondness for those birds. Sure, people feed them. Sure, nobody tries to catch them – but why on Earth would you want to? I remember those birds as being seen more as flying rats and a nuisance than anything else. But then again, my wife has somehow got the impression that us Kiwis like our birds. That may say more about me than my compatriots, but she got that impression somehow. Oh, wait, we call ourselves Kiwis…. hmmm…. We have some pretty special native birds, like kiwi, kokako, kea, kereru, fantail, morepork, kaka, tui, pukeko, takahe, weka, whio, and so on, and so on…. But no, it’s people feeding flying rats in central Wellington that left a lasting impression on this reporter.
  3. Many old people. Oh dear. Every country has old people. China is also an ageing country with a lot of old people. I guess one obvious difference here is that widespread car ownership happened much, much earlier in NZ than in China, so the sight of old people who have been driving longer than most Chinese people have been alive is not so strange for a Kiwi, but perhaps a bit of a shock for this particular reporter. But that “New Zealand saying”? I’m going to go out on a limb here and accuse Zhou of interviewing her keyboard. After all, the second half, “四平八稳”, is a Chinese saying. But, sure, I can’t say I’ve heard of anybody being forced into retirement in NZ, although I have heard of that happening here in China.

So, altogether rather strange. Perhaps Nanjing Daily should consider sending a better reporter next time – one with a bit more life experience and keener observation skills, perhaps?

Today I see news that a company called Dakang Muye (大康牧业) is planning to spend 2.3 billion to buy two New Zealand farms. Exactly how big a sum 2.3 billion is depends, of course, on which currency we’re using. I think it safe to assume from context that the currency is Chinese Yuan/Renminbi. In which case, 2.3 billion would translate to NZ$ 457,613,434.77. Now, I have no idea how that link to will work, but that is the figure I was given. Also, I googled “大康牧业”, and among all the news articles was a site that looked like it might belong to the company, but AVG gave me a big, red, angry “Danger! Don’t go there!” warning, so I won’t link to it.

My knowledge of finance and stock markets is extremely limited, so I may well make some mistakes here. If so, please do enlighten me. But the first paragraph seems to be saying that Dakang plans to raise 2.314 billion yuan through a private placement of 239 million shares priced at 9.69 yuan each, with the balance after fees have been paid to be used to purchase and remodel the Crafar Farms and Lochinver Station.

But wait! Wasn’t it Shanghai Pengxin purchasing the Crafar Farms and Lochinver Station?!


Paragraph 2 says that the company (Dakang) will use the money raised to buy 100% of An Yuan Dairy, An Yuan Dairy’s indirectly held title to the Crafar Farms, and the agreement to buy Lochinver Station signed by its subsidiary Pure 100. This will allow Dakang to indirectly take ownership of the Crafar Farms and purchase Lochinver Station.

Paragraph 3 seems to be a clarifier, answering, “So who’s who and who owns who?” I’ll do my best to get this all straight. Paragraph 3 identifies An Yuan as the Hong Kong-listed wholly-owned subsidiary of Dakang’s controlling shareholder Shanghai Pengxin. So, Shanghai Pengxin is selling 100% of its wholly-owned subsidiary An Yuan Dairy to Dakang, a company in which it has a controlling stake. Which begs the question: Who owns the rest of Dakang?

This paragraph also gives some basic information on the Crafar Farms and Lochinver Station. But the next paragraph is where it gets exciting, pointing out that the combined 22 thousand hectares of the Crafar Farms and Lochinver and the 4000 hectares managed on behalf of Synlait Farms would make Dakang the third largest holder and operator of farmland in New Zealand, with annual production of milk solids from these three farms [note: yes, Crafar is 16 farms, but the article treats them as one unit in this sentence] projected to reach 15 million kilograms.

And the goal, the next paragraph explains, is to create a unified production chain, allowing Dakang to supply all the infant formula and liquid milk for its subsidiary Shanghai NuZealand itself.

And yes, judging by this article from April last year, NuZealand is the ‘English name’ chosen for ‘纽仕兰 (Niǔshìlán)’.

And judging by this article from 21 July this year, Dakang bought a 0.64% share in NuZealand from its controlling shareholder Shanghai Pengxin for 8 million yuan.

And now I am running out of time, so I shall leave it at that for now.

an interesting idea…

March 23rd, 2014

This news is three days old, already, but I missed it on the day and only came across the story via an NZ Herald editorial published yesterday, but which I didn’t have time to read until today. It’s an interesting idea, boost New Zealand’s profile in China by having the All Blacks visit, but I’m not convinced. It’s not much of a story, little more than yet another of the “Oh, look, John Key!” puff pieces the NZ media has gotten so good at, and it seems to be based on even less, just a throwaway comment by John Key on seeing the China Agricultural University rugby team perform a haka:

The Prime Minister made the comment after he was greeted with a haka by a rugby team at the China Agriculture University (CAU), where rugby is a popular sport.

He said he believed the All Blacks should visit at some point.

“It’s the same thing we see happen in a number of other countries. They play exhibition games and I know the Rugby Football Union … are thinking a lot about this market.”

Mr Key said the CAU rugby team should travel to New Zealand to play universities. “I think those guys were good. They were big and strong and young and fit.”

And that’s about half the story right there.

Now, I think it’s a great idea for the CAU rugby team to visit NZ. Especially if they’re going to go performing haka for visiting NZ dignitaries, then they need to go to the source and understand what it is they’re doing. And any other Chinese rugby team, too. Just so long as they get decently-matched opponents. There’s also nothing wrong with having the All Blacks visit China.

But there is a really huge problem with all this. Rugby is not big in China – there you go, there’s my entry for understatement of the decade. Using rugby as a base for NZ-China sports diplomacy would mean NZ needing to start its marketing from a baseline of near zero awareness. For starters, rugby shares a Chinese name with American football, and apparently other codes with similarly-shaped balls. Every time students ask me what sports are popular in New Zealand, I tell them rugby, they reach for their dictionaries, and then it takes several minutes to stop them constantly repeating “Oh, American football” so that I can explain that the two forms of “olive ball” (literal translation of the Chinese name – 橄榄球/gǎnlǎnqiú, gǎnlǎn meaning olive, qiú meaning ball) are two completely different sports. But even then I find it nearly impossible to persuade people that rugby and American football are not the same. The overwhelming majority of Chinese people know nothing about either of these two sports beyond the fact that something called gǎnlǎnqiú exists and is played in faraway countries – and the USA, being so big, rich, powerful and the object of so many people’s obssessions gets a lot more brand recognition than any of the rugby powerhouses, therefore gǎnlǎnqiú is more likely to bring to mind men in tights, huge shoulder pads and helmets than rugby.

Also, mention “New Zealand” to any random Chinese person on the Mainland streets and if they know anything about the place, they’ll happily talk till the cows come home about beautiful natural scenery, sheep, and milk. It is exceedingly rare that anybody will mention any sport. The sports NZ is strong in simply do not register on Chinese radar. Not only that, but it is my experience that when exposed to sports NZ is strong in, Chinese people tend to think we’re a bit, well, mad.

And if the Rugby Football Union (who was Key referring to there? The NZRU? The IRB?) is as interested in the China market as Key seems to think, then they’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do not just raising rugby’s profile [ahem] building almost from scratch a profile for rugby, but also marking out a clear differentiation in Chinese minds between rugby and that other code involving men in tights, huge shoulder pads, and helmets. For example.

So I dunno, interesting idea, but it’s an idea that’s going to need a hell of a lot of work building up a foundation for it to have even the slightest chance of being noticed outside China’s infinitisemally small rugbyhead community.

proper schools

February 23rd, 2014

A department of China’s Ministry of Education and China Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE) have announced a list of over ten thousand “standard” or “regular” overseas schools so that Chinese people looking to study abroad can make sure they choose “proper” schools and not be fooled by diploma mills.

An aside: “diploma mill” in Chinese is “野鸡大学” – yějī dàxué – pheasant/unregistered and illegal/prostitute university.

The list of proper schools covers 44 countries, including the USA, UK, Australia and Canada. Sina’s repost of the Beijing Times article says the purpose of the list is to protect Chinese students travelling to study overseas at their own expense. The article says three problems have appeared with the rise of such students in recent years: The appearance of poor quality private schools in certain countries, several of which have gone bust; the poor abilities of some of these students to study abroad, especially their inability to live independently, meaning they have a hard time adjusting after they leave China; and “black agents” – agencies getting up to all kinds of shenanigans, passing out fake information or not living up to their responsibilities.

The article also says there are two ways prospective students can get information about studying abroad: One is through the website of the above mentioned department of the Ministry of Education or the website of the CSCSE, the other is through the Ministry of Education’s Study Abroad Service Centre, Chinese diplomatic missions abroad or through the diplomatic missions of foreign countries in China. The problem I have with that is that the website of the above mentioned department of the Ministry of Education I can not persuade to open in Firefox, Maxthon or on my phone, nor by Baiduing it. And a Baidu search for “Ministry of Education’s Study Abroad Service Centre” (in Chinese, of course), is not overly helpful – the best results are for CSCSE. And the links at the bottom of the article to the four lists of schools deemed genuine? Well, they’re on that Ministry of Education website I can’t persuade to open.

Naturally, my first reaction is to try and see where New Zealand’s universities are on these lists – or, perhaps, if they’re on the lists. Trouble is, with websites that don’t open, I’ve had to poke around the CSCSE website. A lot of the information  on that site is a tad out of date – especially the English version. But I did find this list. It has all eight universities, many (most? all? things have changed while I’ve been in China…) polytechs, Te Kura Toi Whakaari o Aotearoa: New Zealand Drama School (what is its status? I honestly don’t know. And why “Te Kura”, which Toi Whakaari does not seem to use?) and some of what were called Private Training Establishments (PTEs) last time I was in NZ for any extended period of time. But again, I’m not sure how up to date that list is, because it includes Tairawhiti Polytech, which apparently merged with EIT in 2011.

Curious, and perhaps a story to keep an eye on.

Steven Joyce in China

November 12th, 2013

So New Zealand’s Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce is in China for a visit. And once again, I find more information about this in the Chinese media than the NZ media. A quick Google NZ news search turns up not very much. Newstalk ZB continues to write radio-style. Topnews gives a little more. Stuff, well, noticed, at least. Scoop has the official press release – and oh, look, could that Sohu article be simply a translation of the press release? It looks awfully similar. Alright, the stats quoted a fairly impressive, but there’s one point that has me wondering:

Mr Joyce will also open the Shenzhen Hi-Tech Fair, China’s largest hi-tech event, where eight New Zealand companies will be exhibiting.

What is this fair and which eight companies are exhibiting?! This could be really interesting, perhaps even something to break the old “NZ as China’s dairy farm” mould. Well, here’s the China High Tech Fair, or in Chinese if you prefer. The search function doesn’t seem to work very well, and I can’t even see a search button on the front page of the Chinese version, I guess I could sift through the content of the links (pdfs!) on this page, though. Ah, this document (pdf!) lists Power by Proxi, NZ Natural Harvest Ltd, POLSOL International Ltd and Wellington Drive Technologies Ltd (but do they count? Well, HR at least is based in NZ and the state applicants must have the right to work in NZ…) on page 2. Four out of eight, and none of them making milk powder, cutting down trees, or edumacating. I’m not sure where the other four are, but this pdf, for example, has 24 pages of exhibitors, and it’s getting too close to lunch time, sorry.

So there you go: New Zealand: More than just cows, trees, and cheaper schools than Australia. It’s good to see that those 8 companies are getting exposure at the High Tech Fair. It would be nice to see the media doing more to inform people about them.

Westland now

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.

But there’s more that doesn’t appear in the NBR’s report, nor in the Herald. China News reports:


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.

国家质检总局已就此与新西兰初级产业部通报信息,核实受影响产品的情况。国家质检总局已要求相关检验检疫机构封存了问题产品,同时决定暂停进口 新西兰Westland公司生产的乳铁蛋白,要求所有来自新西兰其他企业的乳铁蛋白及Westland公司的其他乳制品进口时提供硝酸盐检测报告。

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:

  1. Dates! When was the lactoferrin in question produced? Just how quickly did Westland respond to this issue?
  2. 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:

实际上,进口奶粉也是在国内利用国内工厂的工艺生产,据AC尼尔森数据显示,进口奶粉企业在国内工厂用干法工艺生产的产品,占中国市场的销量大概在 七成。而处于中国市场支配地位的几家进口奶粉企业的产品中,九成以上的产品都是企业的国内工厂用干法工艺生产的,原装进口的少之又少。

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…


oh for crying out loud

August 11th, 2013

DCD, shipments of meat held up at port apparently because MPI didn’t adequately inform AQSIQ of changes to its documentation (although I think there may be a bit more to that…), botulism in the whey protein…

…and now this.

240 workers sitting at home twiddling their thumbs wondering if they’ve still got jobs all because:

Alliance general manager of processing Kerry Stevens said the Ministry for Primary Industries suspended Pukeuri’s certification for exports to China last month because cartons in the container were incorrectly labelled.

Chinese regulations demand a label on both the inside and outside of a carton.

And in Otago, too. I note the south seems to be having a tough time of it economically. And wow, this news must have the locals worried, to say the least.

But, once again, I have to wonder what went wrong. This doesn’t seem difficult: your export market requires your product to be labelled a certain way, so you label it that way, and provided you’re doing everything else right, particularly regards quality, hygiene, and safety generally, everybody’s happy, right?

apology, criticism, and more

August 6th, 2013

And the top headline on the front page of today’s The Beijing News is Fonterra’s apology, accompanied by a photo of Theo Spierings looking suitably contrite. Unfortunately today also brings news that another brand is affected by the contaminated whey protein – Abbott, whose website prominently features a notice announcing the recall of two batches.

The main article on page A04 is headlined:


Fonterra: Affected products recalled in 48 hours

It goes on to explain:


“I wish to express our most sincere apologies to the Chinese people and all the people of the world who have been affected.” Spiering promised that from the time of the press conference, “within the next 48 hours the affected products will have been effectively recalled, we will make 100% certain that all products will have been brought under control”

Oh dear, that 100% figure again…

But there’s a sentence that grabs the eye:


At the press conference, Spiering revealed there is one more affected dairy company that requested Fonterra to not reveal any information about it for the time being.

Now that’s a worry. There is more potentially contaminated product out there somewhere and we have no idea what it is.

This is also interesting:


Regarding foreign media reports of China imposing a complete ban on the import of New Zealand dairy products, Spiering said at yesterday’s media conference that currently the Chinese government has not banned the export of all New Zealand dairy products to China, but has only limited the import of some prodducts, and whey protein and base powder for infant formula are in this category.

Now there’s not much I like about our beloved prime minister, but sometimes John Key gets things right. His criticism is also reported in the Chinese press, including in a related news item lower down on page A04 of The Beijing News. Unfortunately, all TBN has to say about Key’s criticism is this:


Yesterday New Zealand prime minister John Key criticised Fonterra’s delay in revealing its product quality issue.

And the rest of the article is given over to Spierings’ explanation of the delay. Compare with the NZ Herald:

He said the full extent of possible contamination was still unknown, and the information Fonterra was giving kept changing, making it clear more products were potentially affected than originally thought.

“Until we get that information, the situation remains fluid and we are unable to give New Zealanders or or trading partners absolute certainty.”

Back to The Beijing News, whose page A05 is headlined:


Recall in 48 hours? Can’t be completely done!

The reporter contacted the affected companies who said it’s not possible to get all the recalled products back within 48 hours. Dumex said it didn’t know how much had been sold. It had 420.188 tons of affected formula on the market, but was waiting for vendors to inform them exactly how much of that had already been sold. Coca Cola’s recalled products were sold in Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan, but it too was waiting on statistics as to how much had been sold, thanks to the large number of vendors selling its product. However, because of the ultra heat treatment of the products and the weak acid inhibition function of the drinks, the products are safe. Wahaha said its affected products left the factory in October last year and had basically sold out.

This page also has a timeline of recent quality issues with Western milk powder:

April 2013: Over 8400 tons of milk powder from Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Korea [I think that’s the first time I’ve seen a non-Western country lumped in with 洋, hence my insistence on translating 洋 as “Western” rather than the more common “foreign”] had substandard levels of copper, vitamins B6 and B12, and choline.

January 2013: DCD found in some New Zealand milk and milk powder. And here it notes that Fonterra products were especially implicated.

September 2012: Fonterra finds DCD in some New Zealand milk and milk powder but does not inform the public. I think the January 2013 entry should’ve said “revealed” rather than “found”.

August 2012: Several Japanese [another I haven’t previously seen included in 洋] brands found to have insufficient iodine.

February – November 2012: A Suzhou import-export company was caught altering the batch numbers of its infant formula.

May 2011: Some of a South Korean dairy company’s products were found to contain formalin after it used polluted imported feed.

And then I came across this curious post on Weibo:

【担心奶粉安全 中国母亲兴起网上买母乳】据CNN,新西兰乳品生产商恒天然婴幼儿奶粉中被发现肉毒杆菌之后,更多奶水不足的新母亲开始寻求替代奶源,网上母乳 交易开始兴旺。很多母亲也乐意出售多余奶水赚外快。但专家警告,网上买卖母乳也并非没有风险,奶源可能被感染或含艾滋病毒等。

[Worried about the safety of milk powder, Chinese mothers are starting to buy breastmilk online] According to CNN, after botulinum was found in infant formula made by New Zealand dairy producer Fonterra, more new mothers who can’t express enough milk have begun to search for alternative milk sources and the online trade in breastmilk is booming. Many mothers are also happy to sell their excess milk for the extra income. But experts warn the online trade in breastmilk is not without risk, the milk could be infected or carry the AIDS virus.

It’s not the first time this year I’ve heard of a shadowy, but not quite underground, trade in breastmilk, but even so, it is a strange post to appear. And from CNN? China’s own media has failed to miss this story? Well, this would seem to be the original article. But something seems to have gotten a bit lost in translation:

On Saturday, New Zealand company Fonterra announced that a strain of bacteria that causes botulism had been found in batches of an ingredient used to make baby formula, as well as sports drinks.

Not Fonterra-produced infant formula, as Vista would have it. Also, the link between this scandal and the human breastmilk trade would seem rather tenuous:

After China’s tainted milk powder scandal in 2008, many new mothers who were unable to produce enough breast milk for their infant resorted to buying formula overseas — most notably in Hong Kong.


The restrictions have encouraged new mothers to find other means of sourcing milk to feed their babies.

“If I don’t have enough breast milk I would prefer to purchase human breast milk, because I don’t trust our milk powder,” explained Fang Lu, a newlywed who is planning to start a family.

So this has been going on for some time now, and CNN singularly fails to draw a link between this botulism scandal and the online breast milk trade.

But yes, this trade is “shadowy-but-not-quite-underground”:

In China, trading human breast milk online occupies a legal gray area. While the Ministry of Health Law Supervisor Department has declared that human breast milk cannot be a commodity, no laws regulate or explicitly prohibit its sale.

And then has an expert calling for regulation giving the obvious risks in the trade.

two front pages

August 5th, 2013

First up, this morning’s Beijing Morning Post:


The top headline: 420 tons of problematic Dumex has entered the market.The photo: Shelves in a supermarket in Wellington, New Zealand.

Down the left of the photo: A timeline of Fonterra’s problems in China this year. January: DCD. July: NDRC anti-trust investigation. August: Discovery of botulinum contamination.

Front page number 2, today’s The Mirror:


See that big red “banned” circle? The black characters above the horizontal red line say “Fonterra”. The white characters within the horizontal red line say “AQSIQ calls a halt”. The black characters below the horizontal red line say “milk”, but milk of a raw material kind to be used in the manufacture of other products. The small black characters within the circle below “milk” say that Jingkelong, a Beijing supermarket chain, has found problematic, i.e. potentially contaminated milk powder. There are two branches of Jingkelong within a 10 minute walk of where I sit, and plenty more across the eastern side of Beijing and further afield.