11 Mar 2015

International media pick up 'formula threat' story

5:40 am on 11 March 2015

A threat to poison supplies of infant formula in New Zealand with 1080 has made international headlines, with news services pointing out the potential impact on the country's multi-billion diary industry and reputation.

Milk formula being tested

Milk formula being tested Photo: SUPPLED

Police yesterday revealed they had spent more than three months investigating blackmail, after threatening letters were sent to Fonterra and Federated Farmers demanding the use of 1080 be stopped by the end of this month.

International outlets including China's Xinhua, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Daily Mail and the BBC were running the story.

News wires Reuters and AFP, and outlets in Thailand, Australia and South Africa had also picked it up.

"The New Zealand government has begun warning parents and officials in major markets abroad of a threat to poison the country's infant formula products," China's Xinhua reported.

China is New Zealand's biggest market for milk powder, and buys a third of the country's dairy exports.

Some Chinese outlets had picked up the Xinhua report, but a New Zealander investment manager in Beijing, David Mahon, yesterday said the country's media showed little immediate interest when the news broke.

The importance of the dairy industry to New Zealand's economy was highlighted by Reuters, which said dairy made up more than 7 percent of gross domestic product.

"The announcement pushed the New Zealand dollar to a six-week low over concerns about the possible impact on the country, which depends on dairy products for about a quarter of its export earnings," a Reuters report said.

According to an AFP report, the threat risks damaging the country's "clean, green" reputation.

"Even if it was a hoax, the scare comes at a sensitive time for New Zealand's dairy industry, which is recovering from a botulism scare last year involving Fonterra," the report said.

"It was eventually declared a false alarm but not before potentially toxic formula was yanked off shelves from China to Saudi Arabia," it said.