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China bans more New Zealand dairy products in new food scare

China’s food quality watchdog has halted all imports of products made by New Zealand dairy firm Westland over nitrate contaminations. The food scare is the second within a month caused by a New Zealand dairy producer.

Two consignments of lactoferrin totaling 390 kg (860 pounds) had been exported to China despite containing elevated nitrate levels, New Zealand's Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) announced Monday.

Nitrate levels of 610 and 2,198 parts per million had been found in the batches, exceeding the New Zealand standard of 150 parts per million, but negligible in terms of a food safety risk to consumers, MPI said.

Westland Chief Executive Rod Quin said apparently the contamination occurred when cleaning products were not properly flushed at the company's South Island processing plant.

Lactoferrin is a protein purified from milk and used in several food products. New Zealand's MPI authority said the nitrate levels would be diluted in the manufacturing process so that they became harmless.

Moreover, all of the product had been located, and none of it had entered the retail food chain, said Westland CEO Rod Quin.

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Nevertheless, China's food quality watchdog, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of China, halted all imports of the Westland product and asked other New Zealand dairy companies exporting lactoferrin to provide nitrate test reports.

Moreover, it urged the New Zealand government to thoroughly scrutinize its dairy companies as well as their products to ensure the safety of exports to China.

The ban comes after the world's biggest dairy producer, New Zealand's Fonterra, earlier this month was forced to recall its infant formula, as well as sports drinks and other products, in China. They were contaminated with bacteria causing a food poisoning called botulism.

uhe/tj (Reuters, AFP)

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