China 'unaware' of NZ infant formula shipment stopped at border over 1080 threat: MPI


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China 'unaware' of NZ infant formula shipment stopped at border over 1080 threat: MPI

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China is “unaware” of any consignment of New Zealand infant formula being held at its border in response to the 1080 contamination threat, says the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

During a press briefing earlier today, Scott Gallacher, deputy director general, MPI, said officials in China are not aware of any detained shipments of New Zealand infant formula.

Reports emerged this week that a consignment of infant formula from New Zealand had been stopped at the border over concerns about sodium monofluoroacetate (1080) contamination.

New Zealand Police announced on March 10 that it is investigating a threat - made in letters sent to Fonterra and Federated Farmers in November 2014 - to contaminate infant formula with 1080 in an "apparent protest"​ at its use as a pest control poison.

Michael Barnett, chairman of the New Zealand Infant Formula Exporters Association (NZIFEA) told ONE News that NZ$1.5m worth of New Zealand infant formula had been stopped at the Chinese border.

During "tremendous and positive discussions"​ MPI's Chinese counterparts "indicated they they're unaware of any consignments that have been stopped at the border as a result of this criminal blackmail threat,"​ said Gallacher.

“We are aware that in the last 12 to 24 hours there have been some reports around the possibility that some infant formula and other product exports might have been blocked at the border in China because of any requirements that have been imposed by our counterpart agencies in China as a result of this criminal blackmail threat,"​ said Gallacher.

“In particular, we are aware, through a third party, of one small exporter who may have been experiencing some of those problems and the Ministry for Primary Industries is following that up with the exporter.”

“Overnight, we have had significant engagement with our counterparts in China on this specific issue, and they have advised us that they are not aware of any consignments being held up as a result of this criminal blackmail threat," ​he said.

In a tweet, the New Zealand Government Food Protection - set up in response to the 1080 threat - also played down reports of a fall in demand for New Zealand infant formula.

Import measures

Fonterra and Federated Farmers received blackmail letters in November that contained threats to contaminate formula products with 1080 unless New Zealand ended its use of the poison by the end of March.

1080 is the salt form of fluoroacetate, a toxin found in a number of plants. 1080 pellets are applied aerially in New Zealand to kill pests such as possums, which have been blamed for the spread of bovine tuberculosis in New Zealand. 

Samples of milk powder sent with the letters tested positive for a concentrated form of 1080.

Fonterra and Federated Farmers immediately referred the matter to New Zealand Police. It went public with the threat ahead of schedule after the media got wind of the issue.

In response to the New Zealand Police announcement, the Chinese General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) tightened controls on imports of New Zealand infant formula.

“China has already taken steps regarding New Zealand milk powder imports, and will demand every shipment has an official New Zealand certificate guaranteeing it does not contain sodium monofluoroacetate,”​ AQSIQ said in a statement.

During today's press briefing, Gallacher said MPI is working with Chinese authorities "on the precise nature of what they would like to see."

Also speaking at the press conference, Mike Clement, deputy commissioner, New Zealand Police, said it has so far received 42 calls and emails regarding the threat.

He reiterated an earlier call to the individual behind the letters.

“Finally, I would say again to the person who is responsible for the threatening letters:  We want to speak to you, please contact me or the investigation team. It is imperative that for the safety of all New Zealanders and the reassurance of all New Zealanders that you come forward and we can bring this investigation to a conclusion,"​ he said.

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