Baby Formula Poison Threat Deals NZ Food Image Another Blow
New Zealand’s reputation as a clean, safe food exporter is again at risk after police said they are investigating a threat to poison baby formula.
Letters sent to Fonterra Cooperative Group, the world’s biggest dairy exporter, and Federated Farmers of New Zealand in November threatened to contaminate baby formula with the pesticide 1080 unless the government stopped using it, police said in Wellington on Tuesday. Tests of more than 40,000 samples had found no trace of the poison, the government said.
The threat comes after a botulism scare in 2013 prompted a global recall of some Fonterra products and an import ban by China until it was proved to be a false alarm. Dairy is New Zealand’s largest foreign exchange earner, accounting for 29 percent of overseas sales in an economy where exports make up about a third of output.
“While a threat is a long way from reality, the mere hint highlights the importance of New Zealand’s food safety regime,” said Cameron Bagrie, chief economist at ANZ Bank New Zealand in Wellington. “The coming month will be critical and will depend on the extent to which foreign competitors play up the development, with a view to undermining New Zealand’s reputation and market credentials.”
Prime Minister John Key labelled the poison threat “eco- terrorism” and said the probability of it being carried out was “extremely low.” New Zealand informed trade partners, including China, of the incident in February, he said at a news conference in Wellington Tuesday.
New Zealand markets itself internationally as a “100% Pure” food exporter and tourist destination. The slogan has been called into question by China’s official news agency Xinhua, which said in 2013 that buyers of Kiwi goods were losing faith in its clean, green image.
China is the biggest customer for New Zealand dairy exports, which are worth NZ$14 billion ($10 billion) a year.
News by Bloomberg, edited by ESM