NZ baby formula botulism scare: global media coverage – updated

By Toby Manhire In Politics, The Internaut

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It is no exaggeration to say that the scandal around contamination of New Zealand milk powder is resounding the world over.

The revelations that some milk powder could contain a string of bacteria linked to botulism was leading bulletins on BBC World News on Sunday and Monday.

In the most important market of all, China, the official news agency, Xinhua, has run more than 20 stories on the subject since Saturday.

A devastating editorial distributed by Xinhua is widely published under the headline “New Zealand needs to start building trust in the long-term”.  It thunders: “With yet another trade imbroglio, this one Fonterra’s botulism scare, surely it’s time to ask the New Zealand government: ‘Where’s the quality control?'”

It concludes:

New Zealand’s problems aren’t mere “details” they’re starting to look systemic … Glib assurances that the problems are “details” or that they are a sign that New Zealand is a “victim of its own success” in trade just don’t cut it.

The glibness is stalking other aspects of New Zealand’s foreign trade, with the country’s “100 Percent Pure” tourism campaign becoming a festering sore as experts claim that the country might not in fact be “100 percent pure.”

John Key, who also serves as tourism minister, defended the campaign in April: “It’s like saying ‘McDonald’s, I’m loving it’ – I’m not sure every moment that someone’s eating McDonald’s they’re loving it … it’s the same thing with 100 Percent Pure. It’s got to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt.”

No, Mr Key, it needs to be fixed before your trading partners just stop “loving it.”

However an editorial from the Shanxi Evening News, reprinted by the Global Times, questions China’s own inspection processes:

After New Zealand dairy producer Fonterra announced that some of the whey protein concentrate it produced was contaminated with botulism-causing bacteria, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine found that four companies on the Chinese mainland had imported tainted whey powder for the production of baby formula or related beverages. 

One can’t help but wonder why Fonterra was the first to bring this issue to the public’s attention. Why didn’t importers or relevant quality and inspection watchdogs in China come forward to sound the alarm bell?

From a Global Times editorial on Wednesday (“Too early for domestic dairy brands to celebrate”):

Although [Fonterra] actively reported the problem and made an open apology to the Chinese public, this dealt a devastating blow to its image and could further decrease Chinese consumers’ trust in foreign dairy brands.

It remains unknown if the case is an accident or a problem that they were previously unaware of. Fonterra discovered the botulinum bacteria contamination in March, but withheld the information for more than four months. This will affect Chinese consumers’ attitudes to the company …

Chinese domestic milk powder brands whose reputations are in the dust perhaps think that their chance has come. However, if they continue to stick to vicious competition and don’t improve the environment for brand construction, they are unlikely to catch up when competing with foreign brands in the future …

Fonterra won’t easily fall in the Chinese market. The recovery of its image and reputation and future competition with its Chinese counterparts are welcomed by Chinese consumers. This is the same situation facing Chinese brands that have also suffered a scandal.

Another widely published commentary, by Peter Thal Larsen of Reuters Breaking Views, appears under the headline “Milk scare exposes New Zealand’s dairy dependency”:

The fallout matters not just to Fonterra, but to the New Zealand economy. The dairy industry is one of its biggest earners, accounting for roughly a quarter of total exports. The country’s authorities are aware of the risks of a sudden downturn too: bank regulators in 2011 introduced higher capital requirements for farm lending. Nevertheless, the recent scare is a reminder of the risks of relying on an industry that depends so heavily on perceptions of health and cleanliness.

The world’s most read newspaper website, the British Mail Online, pulls no punches with its headline, “New Zealand’s green claims are pure manure”. It extrapolates from the present problems to wider doubts over the credibility of the “100% pure” brand.


Here’s the front page and page three of China Daily, August 5:

And August 6:

And the internationally circulated Chinese Global Times:

And in its next edition, Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings graces the front page:


From the front page of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post on Monday:

Tuesday’s MyPaper, a popular English-Chinese bilingual daily from Singapore:

The front page of the Bangkok Post Sunday edition:


The front page of Taiwan’s China Post:



Pages one and four of Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta:

The lead of the world section of Malaysia’s Star:

Page 3, Times of Oman:

Der Standard, Austria:

Page 3 of Singapore’s Straits Times:

The Australians unleashed the puns. From the Herald Sun:

And the Geelong Advertiser:

And here’s China’s CCTV, English version, on the story:

Originally published August 5, 2013; last updated August 7.

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