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New Zealand in milk bacteria scare

New Zealand authorities have triggered a global recall of up to 1,000 tons of dairy products across seven countries after dairy giant Fonterra announced tests had turned up a type of bacteria that could cause botulism.

New Zealand's Ministry of Primary Industries said that the tainted products include infant formula, sports drinks, protein drinks and other beverages. It said countries affected beside New Zealand include China, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.

Fonterra said its customers were urgently checking their supply chains.

One New Zealand company has locked down five batches of infant formula and China is asking importers to immediately recall products.

Fonterra is the world's fourth-largest dairy company, with annual revenues of about 16 billion dollars (£10.47 billion).

The news comes as a blow to New Zealand's dairy industry, which powers the country's economy. New Zealand exports about 95 percent of its milk.

Consumers in China and elsewhere are willing to pay a big premium for New Zealand infant formula because the country has a clean and healthy reputation. Chinese consumers have a special interest after tainted local milk formula killed six babies in 2008.

The Centres for Disease Control describes botulism as a rare but sometimes fatal paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin.

Fonterra said it has told eight of its customers of the problem, which dates back more than a year, and they were investigating whether any of the affected product is in their supply chains. Fonterra said those companies will initiate any consumer product recalls.

At a news conference Fonterra repeatedly refused to divulge the companies, countries or specific products affected. Gary Romano, the managing director of Fonterra's New Zealand milk products, said his company supplies raw materials to the eight companies and it is up to them to inform their consumers of what products might be tainted.

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