WELLINGTON/DHAKA (Reuters) - New Zealand's Fonterra said on Wednesday some of its milk powder products had been held up for chemical testing in Bangladesh, the latest country to stop the company's products at its borders after a food safety scare earlier this month.
The statement confirms information from a Bangladesh government official who said on Tuesday that customs authorities had restricted the import of more than 600 tonnes (544.31 metric tons) of powdered milk mainly from the world's largest dairy exporter.
"Fonterra is working alongside the New Zealand government to ensure that Bangladesh authorities have all the information that they need about the safety and quality of our products," Group Director of Communications Kerry Underhill told Reuters.
Fonterra was embroiled in a contamination scare this month after it found bacteria in some of its products that could cause botulism. Last week, it also said 42 tonnes of milk powder were stopped at the border in China in May because of high nitrite levels.
The move by Bangladesh comes after the commerce ministry asked customs officials in the port city of Chittagong to exercise caution in releasing Fonterra-branded dairy products. In the year to June, Bangladesh imported 20,741 tonnes of milk powder, mainly from Fonterra.
"We decided not to deliver any milk powder from Fonterra without a chemical test as there might be nitrate in the milk powder," said Mahabub Ahamed, secretary of the Ministry of Commerce. "If poisonous nitrate is found, we will ban the milk powder," he told Reuters.
The term nitrates is often used interchangeably with nitrites, which occur naturally in water, soil and food and can be used as fertilizers and preservatives. Excessively high levels can be toxic.
Customs officials in Chittagong said they usually have their own experts test products, but they had been instructed by the commerce ministry to send samples of the Fonterra products to the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Karmrujjaman Kamal, marketing director of Pran Dairy Ltd, an importer, said Fonterra officials had agreed to take back any contaminated milk powder.
Sri Lanka last week ended a ban on the sale of Fonterra milk products that had been ordered after food safety authorities said they found the toxic farm chemical dicyandiamide (DCD) in two batches of milk powder.
(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu in Wellingon and Serajul Quadir and Nazimuddin Shyamol in Dhaka; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)