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PM will make rare apology for milk scare

Updated: 2013-08-14 09:14
( Agencies/China Daily)

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said on Tuesday that he will visit Beijing later this year to personally apologize to Chinese consumers over the Fonterra milk botulism scare.

Key said an apology was an important step in restoring trust in his country's food products after the crisis prompted global recalls of dairy products.

He acknowledged that it was unusual for a national leader to say sorry on behalf of a private company, but he said the reputation of Fonterra was inextricably linked with that of New Zealand as a whole.

"It's just going to be important in their (Chinese) culture that I go up there and offer an apology," Key told New Zealand's TV3.

He said he was not going to Beijing immediately, as he wanted to wait until a government inquiry into the botulism scare had been completed as this would enable him to answer any questions from consumers in China.

"I want to guarantee in a visit to China that this won't happen again," said Key.

Earlier this month, Fonterra reported to the New Zealand government that tests on the company's milk products showed that it contained a type of bacteria that can cause botulism, a rare but potentially fatal paralytic illness.

According to news reports, Fonterra detected the contamination in March, but did not report the discovery to the government until half a year later. The company said the problem was caused by "unsterilized pipes" in a factory.

Fonterra is New Zealand's leading dairy company. China imported 371,000 metric tons of raw milk powder from New Zealand in the first half of this year, accounting for approximately 83 percent of the country's total milk powder imports, according to the General Administration of Customs.

While no infants fell ill after consuming products containing tainted Fonterra milk powder, the scandal dented New Zealand's image and hurt its reputation for supplying premium infant formula.

Failed to learn lessons

Critics have accused it of failing to learn the lessons of a 2008 scandal, when six children died and 300,000 fell ill after a Chinese company it partially owned illegally laced milk with the chemical melamine.

Zhang Fan, economic and commercial counselor at the Chinese embassy in Wellington, told TV3 recently that Fonterra had no more chances after three food scares since 2008. He told the TV3 show The Nation that "mistakes should not be repeated again and again".

Chen Fengying, director of the Institute of World Economic Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said: "In the aftermath of the Fonterra contamination, both the enterprise and the New Zealand government have been slow to react. I think initially they wanted to turn a big problem into a small one but failed.

"Now it's good to see the New Zealand prime minister has shown sincerity by promising to come to China to apologize."

She said it is not hard to understand Key's visit, given the fact that China is New Zealand's single most important export market for dairy products and the country's second-largest trading partner.

New Zealand is the first developed economy to sign a free trade agreement with China, another sign of their important economic ties.

China Daily - AFP

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