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New Zealand's milk safe, government says
by Staff Writers
Auckland, New Zealand (UPI) Jan 28, 2013

Hong Kong mulls making baby formula protected item
Hong Kong (AFP) Jan 30, 2013 - Hong Kong is considering designating baby formula a "reserved commodity" to ensure sufficient supply, an official said Wednesday, after mainland Chinese who flocked to buy it sparked shortage fears.

Hundreds of mainlanders have been stuffing tins of the baby milk powder into large bags and boxes near train stations at the border in recent days, part of a shopping spree before Lunar New Year that starts on February 10.

While business has been especially brisk recently, the so-called parallel traders have been travelling to border areas of Hong Kong from mainland China for months, sparking complaints about congestion and shortages in stores.

The traders travel to Hong Kong by train to stock up on goods ranging from iPhones to cosmetics, taking advantage of lower prices and wider choice in the city and dodging import tariffs on their return to the mainland.

Baby formula is especially popular because of concern about the safety of food processed in mainland China following a series of scandals.

The shopping spree has prompted concerns from local mothers and others.

Now the government says it is considering a lawmaker's proposal to make infant milk powder a protected item to control exports and imports.

"We are making an internal study about the proposal," a government spokeswoman told AFP.

Authorities would be able to set the price and restrict sales if the baby formula is listed as a reserved commodity. Rice is the only item listed now.

Health Minister Ko Wing-man said new control measures could be announced this week. "If we are to limit this sort of commodity from leaving Hong Kong, we have to set a quota for it," he told public broadcaster RTHK.

Milk powder suppliers have assured mothers they have boosted supply to meet demand.

The government announced last year it would step up border controls and ask Chinese authorities to cancel the travel permits of mainlanders who illegally engage in commercial activities.

Although the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it maintains a semi-autonomous status with its own laws and immigration controls.

New Zealand's dairy products are safe, the government said, after traces of a chemical residue were detected in some of the country's milk products.

At issue is the chemical dicyandiamide, or DCD.

"The detection of these small DCD residues poses no food safety risk. DCD itself is not poisonous," Ministry for Primary Industries Director General Wayne McNee said in a statement Saturday.

The ministry said DCD has been used by less than 5 percent of New Zealand's dairy farmers who applied it twice a year. It is used in pastures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the leaching of nitrogen into waterways.

The ministry's statement, translated into Chinese and posted on its website, stressed that DCD isn't melamine. In China in 2008, at least six infants died and thousands of people became sick from melamine-contaminated milk.

"It is a different chemical and has none of the toxicity that melamine has," the ministry statement said.

Many Chinese consumers have relied on imported milk powder since the 2008 melamine incident, says a report in China's Global Times newspaper. Milk power from New Zealand accounts for about 75 percent of milk powder imports.

Foreign milk powder brands that use New Zealand milk were still on sale in Beijing and other major cities, the newspaper reported Sunday.

Fonterra, New Zealand's largest dairy, in a statement Sunday aimed at reassuring global customers, said, "New Zealand dairy products are safe to consume."

Fonterra Co-operative Group Limited Chief Executive Theo Spierings said that "the minute traces (of DCD) detected were around 100 times lower than acceptable levels under European food safety limits."

"The bottom line? Our products are safe. Customers can rest assured," Spierings said.

Still, Malaysia's Health Ministry raised New Zealand dairy products to an alert level 4, thus requiring every dairy consignment from New Zealand passing through entry points in Malaysia to be sampled.

"We are very concerned and have put these products on high alert," said Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, The Star newspaper reports.

While DCD hasn't been proven to cause cancer, the minister said, it is a contaminant.

Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration said Saturday that it would check shipments of baby milk formula from New Zealand. In 2012, New Zealand accounted for 78.9 percent of Taiwan's adult powdered milk imports in 2012 and 21.7 percent of its total baby milk formula imports.

Separately, Fonterra announced Friday that Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Mason would be retiring in the next six months.


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