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China to scrutinize NZ milk powder imports after poisoning scare

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China will increase scrutiny on milk powder imports from New Zealand, its quality control watchdog said late on Tuesday, after suspected environmental activists threatened to contaminate infant formula in the top global dairy exporter.

[SHANGHAI] China will increase scrutiny on milk powder imports from New Zealand, its quality control watchdog said late on Tuesday, after suspected environmental activists threatened to contaminate infant formula in the top global dairy exporter.

New Zealand police said on Tuesday letters were sent to the national farmers' group and dairy giant Fonterra in November accompanied by packages of infant formula laced with poisonous pesticide 1080, formally called sodium fluoroacetate.

The poisoning scare dragged the New Zealand dollar to a six-week low over concerns about the possible impact on the country, which depends on dairy products for about a quarter of its export earnings. China is its biggest dairy buyer. "China has already taken steps and will demand each batch of milk powder imported from New Zealand has an official New Zealand certificate that it does not contain 1080," China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in a statement on its website.

The watchdog added that importers should provide test reports that the product was free from the contaminant, and that dealers should ensure that all packaging was intact. It said there had been no reported cases of poisoning within China.

New Zealand police said no traces of the poison were found in any products in factories. The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) also sought to assure consumers, saying the chances of contamination were extremely low.

The scare is the latest threat to New Zealand's dairy sector, which exported US$11 billion in milk products in 2014, and follows a contamination scare in 2013, when a botulism-causing bacteria was believed to be found in one of Fonterra's products.

The incident prompted a major recall of infant formula, sports drinks and other products in China and other countries before the discovery was found to be false.

A number of clients cut or reduced reliance on Fonterra over the scare.

China's quality watchdog said Chinese consumers should be cautious when buying milk powder imported from New Zealand and to check packaging for any signs of damage, which people should report to local regulators or police.

REUTERS