Infant formula firms welcome New Zealand food safety review over China concerns

2013-06-27 09:32:08 GMT2013-06-27 17:32:08(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

WELLINGTON, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Infant formula companies in New Zealand on Thursday welcomed the government moves to audit the country's food safety regime after a spate of concerns about infant products exported to China.

Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye said she had asked the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to undertake an audit to identify any areas for improvement, including verification, compliance and testing regimes.

MPI was already prioritizing Codex, the international food standards body, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to review end product standards for infant formula, she said.

She had also ordered a check that New Zealand's Overseas Market Access Requirements (OMARs) were in line with changes being introduced in China's regulations for infant formula.

This month, MPI introduced a brand register for infant formula manufactured in New Zealand to ensure the integrity of New Zealand branded products in China, but there were possibly other improvements that could be made, she said.

MPI was also asked to investigate mechanisms to better collaborate and communicate with markets in Asia, particularly China, in areas such as science and labeling.

"It is my intention to visit China in the near future to discuss future initiatives," Kaye said in a statement.

"New Zealand's infant formula exports are estimated at about 600 million NZ dollars (469.67 million U.S. dollars) a year, with approximately 170 million NZ dollars of that going to China," said Kaye.

The Infant Nutrition Council (INC) of New Zealand and Australia, which earlier this month warned that "inexperienced companies" were endangering the reputation of New Zealand infant formula in China, welcomed the move.

"Infant formula is a very delicate product, and for consumers to have confidence in the safety of the product and New Zealand's reputation, they must be aware of the tight rules that the government has in place around its manufacture and marketing," INC chief executive Jan Carey said in a statement.

INC members, which include global food giants such as Bayer, HJ Heinz, Nestle, Nutricia and Fonterra, have already met strict standards, many of them self-imposed.

"We must ensure everyone complies," she said.

Managing Director of the Fresco Nutrition formula company, Gregg Wycherley, said the register of export brands going to China is "a good first step."

"Right now nobody really even knows how many New Zealand brands are on sale in China, or who runs the companies that are behind them," Wycherley told Xinhua in a phone interview.

"I'd like to see MPI and other relevant authorities perform some due diligence on the people behind the brands to make sure that our country's reputation in this very sensitive sector and in a key market is not damaged by dodgy types simply looking for a quick buck," he said.

"It takes about 10 minutes to create a company online in New Zealand, and the same amount of time to apply for dairy export registration. I think it's great that New Zealand is an easy place to do business, but let's not lose track of the fact that children 's health is at stake, and also our country's reputation as a premier food supplier."

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