Whole milk powder (WMP) prices are now sitting above pre-Covid-19 levels and New Zealand farmers can thank a resurging Chinese economy for that.
A Kiwi entrepreneur has warned Rural News that the issue could easily become another food safety headache for the NZ dairy industry in the lucrative Chinese market.
Jane Li, a China dairy market consultant who operates retail stores in China, says formulated milk powders with added whey protein concentrate, lactoferrin and colostrum are being repacked by some Chinese-owned companies here and sold as supplements for infants and toddlers in the China market.
After the Covid-19 outbreak, some Chinese consumers are falling for marketing gimmicks around the health benefits of mixing sachets of NZ-made milk powder with infant formula or baby cereal. Li told Rural News that these products are simply not safe to feed to infants especially newborns, due to risk of protein toxicity.
“Also, the vast majority of products made here in NZ are not even using infant grade ingredients. Some are even using close to expired ingredients.”
The market for formulated milk powder is a fast growing one in China, over five million cans were exported to China from NZ last year.
It is expected to reach 7 million this year – a 40% year-on-year growth.
A 60 gram can of lactoferrin milk powder costs just under 30 yuan (US$4.20) to make and send to China. It is repacked and retailed for between 400 yuan (US$56.40) to 600 yuan (US$84.70).
Li calls these exporters unethical. She says the labelling on the cans is misleading, as it has pictures of toddlers.
“The product packaging design is clearly targeting young children,” she says.
Li wants the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) to look into these products before it’s too late. She suggests labelling all formulated milk powder products as ‘unsuitable for infants’.
“Previously, MPI has said that these products are safe for adults and they did not know if these products are being made for the purpose of selling to infants in China,” she says.
“Now that MPI knows these products are designed and made in NZ as finished products, with the clear intention to export and sell as food for infants in China, can they say what they are going to do to protect NZ interests?”
Li warns that with milk prices trending up and the outlook for NZ agri exports looking very positive, the last thing NZ needs now is to be exposed to a ‘ticking time bomb’ like this for the sake of unethical players exploiting our system and cutting corners to make “quick bucks.”
She says big processors like Fonterra, Synlait and Open Country Dairy aren’t making such products.
“They are smaller, predominately Chinese-owned and operated factories here who are exploiting regulation loopholes to make these low-quality products to pass off as high-quality NZ products in China.
“However, all the risk and responsibility is being shouldered by NZ if there is any scandal or sickness in China as a result of these products,” Li said