The New Zealand government has announced plans to “strengthen confidence” in the safety of the country’s infant formula as it looks to reassure China over quality concerns.

The New Zealand formula sector has seen dynamic growth in exports, particularly to China where demand for foreign-made infant formula has ballooned in the wake of safety scares.

According to figures released by the New Zealand government, the country’s infant formula exports are estimated at about NZ$600m (US$466.9m) a year, with approximately NZ$170m of that going to China.

However, recent Chinese reports have questioned the safety and reliability of formula originating in New Zealand.

In a move to reassure Beijing, New Zealand Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye yesterday (27 June) unveiled a work programme designed to ensure product quality in the infant formula market.

Kaye has asked the Ministry for Primary Industries to audit New Zealand’s existing regulatory regime to identify any areas for improvement. A check that New Zealand’s Overseas Market Access Requirements (OMARs) keep pace with changes being introduced in China’s regulations for infant formula will also be carried out. The ministry will also investigate “mechanisms to better collaborate and communicate” with markets in Asia, particularly China, in areas such as science and labelling.

“China and New Zealand have a strong reputation of working together to ensure the integrity of traded products. Export assurances are particularly important for infant formula exports where consumers have strong concerns about food safety, quality and product integrity,” Kaye said.

“This work plan is very much a proactive approach to ensure we are staying current and responding to consumer needs and expectations. It is my intention to work closely with industry on this.”