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Fonterra 'let country down', NZ minister says on China visit
by Staff Writers
Beijing, Beijing (AFP) Aug 22, 2013

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra had let the country down over a botulism scare, its foreign minister Murray McCully said Thursday on a visit to China to try to repair the damage.

McCully told reporters he did not apologise to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and State Councillor Yang Jiechi during talks in Beijing, but expressed "regret" towards parents who had been affected by the crisis.

Fonterra-related products have seen global recalls over concerns they could be tainted with a bacteria that can cause potentially fatal botulism.

While no infants fell sick as a result of the contamination, the company was accused of mishandling the situation by releasing information too slowly and then giving out incomplete data when it did finally go public.

"What I would say to the parents or anyone who has been concerned about this matter is that obviously the New Zealand government strongly regrets the disquiet that has been caused, the uncertainty that has been created around some of the food commodities that have been exported here," he said.

The recent scare has tainted the New Zealand food industry's "clean, green" image and threatens a dairy sector that is responsible for 25 percent of the country's exports.

Wellington would continue to monitor the company, said McCully.

"This is something the New Zealand government will be watching very carefully as well because when Fonterra failed to meet the expectations of their customers they let themselves down, they let their customers down, but they also let down every New Zealander," he added.

Fonterra has launched its own inquiry into the scandal and the company's managing director of NZ Milk Products Gary Romano quit last week following the product recalls.

Officials from Prime Minister John Key down have made no secret they are unhappy with how Fonterra dealt with the crisis.

Key has said he will visit Beijing later this year to personally apologise to Chinese customers.

China's baby formula market is worth around NZ$3.0 billion ($2.4 billion) a year to New Zealand.


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