Potentially contaminated infant milk powder that had been banned in China, Russia and Vietnam is now being recalled in Cambodia.
The Cambodian distributor of a milk powder product that uses a suspect ingredient from New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra is recalling thousands of units as a precautionary measure.
Fonterra announced Saturday that a whey protein concentrate sold to certain producers of baby milk powder and sports drinks may be contaminated with bacteria that can cause botulism, “a rare but serious paralytic illness” that can cause death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms for infants include lethargy, lack of appetite and a “weak cry”, the Atlanta-based centre says.
Fonterra contacted eight companies to which it had sold the ingredient, including infant powder producer Danone Dumex, whose distribution arm in Cambodia imports the powdered milk from Malaysia.
Kong Bo, Danone Dumex Cambodia acting country manager, confirmed yesterday that about 7,000 to 8,000 cartons containing 12 tins of the infant milk formula had been identified as possibly containing the Fonterra contaminate.
“Until now, so far we have not had any incidents,” Bo said, referring to reports of illness.
Bo also stressed that not all cartons were “in the hands of consumers”.
As of yesterday, some were still at the warehouse, some with the 700 to 1,000 retailers in the “recall process”, while others had been sold on to consumers.
“We will do a recall to avoid any issue happening,” Bo said.
Staff at Dumex will begin visiting retailers today to reclaim suspect products. Announcements will be made in local papers and a hotline set up for consumer concerns.
“We will repay back all the costs of the milk,” Bo said, adding that consumers could also return their products to the retailer for a refund.
Because the recalled formulas – listed as Dumex Dupro Green, Dumex Dupro Gold and Dumex Dulac Gold – are tied to specific batch numbers, consumers can call 012 233 283, one of several numbers set up to handle queries for parents and caregivers looking to find out if they should return their purchases.
Bo also said that both consumers and retailers would be able to identify the recalled stock by checking the batch codes relating to contaminated powder published in the local press.
Any Dumex products outside of these batch codes were not affected.
On a global scale, Cambodia is a minor part of Fonterra’s problems. Several news reports say China, the world’s second-largest economy, has banned imports of the milk powder from the country.
In 2008, the Chinese government ordered a recall of Sanlu brand milk powder after it was found to be laced with the industrial chemical melamine, resulting in as many as four deaths and 52,857 cases of poisoning. Cambodia at the time barred imports of Chinese milk products.
“We are working closely with [Ministry for Primary Industries in China], regulators around the world and our customers to make them aware of this issue and ensure that all potentially affected product is recalled,” Fonterra said in a statement to the Post. “Fonterra’s primary focus is the health and safety of consumers.”
The general manager of a Dumex baby milk retailer in Phnom Penh who asked not to be named as it may affect the business, said the owner was made aware of the recalled products via mail from Dumex Cambodia.
The general manager said they had five boxes still in stock but were not sure if they were being refunded or not.The shop has sold many boxes but was unable to trace them back to particular dates.
While China, Russia and Vietnam have responded by banning the imports of powdered milk and whey protein concentrate from Fonterra, according to a report in the Guardian, the reaction in Cambodia is less clear. Officials at the Ministry of Health didn’t return several phone calls seeking comment, though Bo, the local office's acting country manager, said Dumex representatives are meeting with the health ministry today.
Yesterday, Fonterra apologised for the botulism scare but denied accusations it delayed releasing information.
“We deeply apologise to the people who have been affected,” CEO Theo Spierings said at a news conference in Beijing, capital of the world’s biggest market for baby formula.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key criticised the company over radio in New Zealand because of alleged delays in Fonterra revealing the contamination earlier when tests identified problems with the batch in May 2012.
Fonterra’s Spierings said the problem became apparent in March when further tests were conducted to find “the root cause and the exact strain”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ANNE RENZENBRINK AND AFP