China orders Abbott recall on milk scare

Chinese commercial law enforcement personnel inspect milk powder products at a supermarket in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province on Aug 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Chinese commercial law enforcement personnel inspect milk powder products at a supermarket in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province on Aug 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

BEIJING (AFP) - China has ordered US pharmaceutical company Abbott to recall some products in the country over a botulism scare centred on New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, authorities said on Tuesday.

Two batches of Abbott's baby formula "risked having been contaminated by clostridium botulinum", the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) said in a statement.

Clostridium botulinum is a bacteria that can cause botulism, an infection that can lead to paralysis and death.

"The AQSIQ has required Abbott... to recall the relevant products to protect the health of Chinese consumers," said the statement.

The formula, intended for children aged between one and three, was produced by Fonterra on May 2 for a Shanghai subsidiary of Abbott, it added.

Fonterra revealed at the weekend that a whey product used to make baby milk and soft drinks had been contaminated with the bacteria.

The company has blamed the contamination on a dirty pipe at a North Island processing plant.

Abbott said in a statement that none of its products sold in China used Fonterra's contaminated whey product, but that the two batches of formula involved were packaged on a Fonterra production line that had residues of the tainted raw material.

"Although the two batches... do not expose any heath risks, we have decided to recall the products and destroy them as a precaution for the maximum benefit of customers," it said.

The batches comprised a total of 7,181 boxes of baby milk tins, but only 112 boxes had been sold and the remainder had already been sealed, it added.

The scare has seen restrictions put on Fonterra products imported into China while Dumex and Karicare, both subsidiaries of French food giant Danone, issued recalls in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand.

Aside from Dumex, the other two companies affected in China, Hangzhou Wahaha and Coca-Cola's Chinese subsidiary, who used the whey in soft drinks, both said their products were safe but they would recall them as a precaution.

Fonterra is the world's largest dairy cooperative and New Zealand's biggest company, accounting for 89 percent of the country's milk production in 2011.

Baby formula safety is a sensitive issue in China, where consumers' distrust mounted after milk tainted with the chemical melamine left six children dead and sickened more than 300,000 in 2008.

Premier Li Keqiang pledged in March to punish safety violators and better oversee domestic milk powder production, in an effort to rebuild trust in Chinese companies.