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Fonterra apologizes for contaminated milk scare

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra has apologized for a milk powder contamination scare, which threatens the country's largest export sector. China halted the milk powder imports after botulism was reportedly detected.

Fonterra's chief executive Theo Spierings apologized for the contamination scare at a media briefing held in Beijing on Monday.

"We really regret the distress and anxiety which this issue could have caused," he said. "We totally understand there is concern by parents and other consumers around the world. Parents have the right to know that infant nutrition and other dairy products are harmless and safe."

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China halts imports over tainted formula

On Saturday Fonterra, New Zealand's largest company and the world's biggest dairy exporter, announced it had found bacteria in some products that could cause botulism, an infection that can lead to paralysis and death. It said contaminated whey protein concentrate had been exported to China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Saudi Arabia and used in products including infant milk powder and sports drinks.

Fonterra said there had been no reports of illness linked to consumption of the tainted product.

Fonterra initially discovered irregularities in whey protein concentrate in March 2013 that was produced and sold to customers in May 2012. The company immediately began testing but did not find the harmful strain until July.

New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key on Monday accused Fonterra of delaying sounding the alarm over the tainted products, saying he was concerned at the impact on the reputation of New Zealand as supplier of “clean, green” dairy products, particularly in Asia.

"You would have thought that for a business where its top business is essentially based around consumer confidence, food safety and the quality of its products, that they are risks that you wouldn't take,” Key said.

The New Zealand dollar has sunk to a 14-month low following the scare, which prompted China to halt all milk powder imports from New Zealand.

se/hc (Reuters, AFP)

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