New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra knew six weeks ago that milk formula produced by its Chinese joint venture partner Sanlu was contaminated, the company revealed today (15 September).
Sanlu milk powder containing the industrial chemical melamine has now been linked to the deaths of two infants, while hundreds have been hospitalised. Fonterra owns 43% of the company.
Fonterra said it called for a full recall of the product as soon as it heard of the contamination on 2 August. “We have continued to push for this all along. Consumer safety has always been our number one priority,” the company said in a statement yesterday.
Sanlu only ordered a recall of its milk formula last Thursday. Fonterra press officials said that the process and timing of the recall was handled entirely by the Chinese government and Sanlu.
Media reports from New Zealand have claimed that the Chinese government acted on the issue only after pressure from NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark. Fonterra confirmed that it discussed the matter with the New Zealand government in early September and that this had been “helpful” in dealing with the Chinese authorities.
Though Fonterra has set up a farm in China to supply Sanlu directly with quality controlled milk, Sanlu still purchases much its raw milk from third parties. Its factory has now been shut down.