19 Mar 2014

PM faces media over botulism scare

9:27 pm on 19 March 2014

Prime Minister John Key has gone live to millions of Chinese in two state media television interviews to explain the contamination scare involving Fonterra.

John Key sought to restore confidence that New Zealand products are safe.

John Key sought to restore confidence that New Zealand products are safe. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

The New Zealand dairy co-operative had to recall products, including infant formula, in August last year because it suspected they had been contaminated with a bacterium that can cause botulism.

Subsequent tests later showed the products were safe, but it caused uncertainty in the Chinese market.

Mr Key spoke to China Central TV News and Phoenix Television in Beijing on Wednesday to spread the news that the botulism scare was a false alarm.

He said the scare and product recall was widely reported in China, but not that the products were later found to be safe.

During the interviews, Mr Key said nothing is more important to mothers and fathers than that the food they give their children is safe.

He made repeated attempts to assure the Chinese public that New Zealand's food safety systems and testing procedures are robust and thorough and they can have confidence in knowing the response to the Fonterra scare was swift and the products found to be safe.

Earlier, Mr Key said that he needed the media to reach the 1.3 billion people that live in China.

Mr Key also took part in a discussion with media.

Mr Key also took part in a discussion with media. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

PM's dinner date a 'coup'

The Infant Formula Exporters Association says John Key's invitation to have dinner with the Chinese president on Wednesday night is a major coup for New Zealand.

Mr Key said he would use a rare invitation to have dinner with Xi Jinping to talk about general trade between New Zealand and China.

Association chair Michael Barnett visited China last year after the botulism fallout and flew out again to Beijing on Tuesday night.

Oravida's presence not a problem - PM

The Prime Minister says he has no problem with dairy exporter Oravida being on the guest list for a function he will be at in Beijing on Wednesday.

The company and Justice Minister Judith Collins are embroiled in controversy over a taxpayer-funded visit she made to its offices in Shanghai in October last year and praised the company's milk. Oravida is run by two of her close friends and her husband is a director.

Mr Key said it is appropriate that Oravida is on the guest list for the dairy industry function, as it is legitimate and doing a lot of business in China.

"I don't have any conflict of interest with them so there's no reason why I shouldn't be there."

Mr Key said he would miss some of the function to attend the dinner with the Chinese president.