The Indonesian authorities have yet to take any precautionary measures after several countries recalled and halted imports of all milk powder from New Zealand and Australia following the discovery of poisonous bacteria.
China and Russia are the latest to announce import bans, particularly of products sold by global dairy giant Fonterra, while Thailand secured its market as early as May.
The bacteria behind the latest scare, according to Reuters on Sunday, is Clostridium Botulinum, which is often found in soil.
If swallowed, the bacteria can cause botulism, a potentially fatal disease that affects the muscles, ignites respiratory problems, and attacks infants’ intestinal systems.
However despite the alarm, the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) said it was not necessary to conduct field examinations to ensure imported milk powder from the two countries was safe for consumption.
BPOM deputy chief for food safety and hazardous substance control Roy A. Sparringa said the agency still had good faith in reports from Fonterra and the governments of New Zealand and Australia that the contaminated products had not entered the Indonesian market.
“Field examinations are not necessary at this stage as we have contacted Fonterra and our counterparts in the two countries, and received confirmation that Indonesia is safe,” said Roy.
“If there are reports in the future from them of contaminated products entering Indonesia, then we will order an import ban,” said Roy.
Fonterra, according to Reuters, identified eight companies to which it had sold contaminated New Zealand-made whey protein concentrate.
The concentrate was exported to China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Saudi Arabia and used in products including infant milk powder.
The firm did not mention Indonesia as being among the affected countries.
However, the Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation (YLKI) criticized BPOM for its inaction in the scare, and for blindly accepting the claims made by Fonterra and the governments of New Zealand and Australia.
“BPOM should not sit on their hands believing the reports. They are required to immediately test samples to verify the claims,” said YLKI chairman Tulus Abadi.
At least 22 percent of Indonesia’s overall milk powder imports, worth around US$700 million annually, originates from New Zealand, and 15 percent from Australia, according to figures from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS).
Most Indonesian families prefer to feed their children from the earliest stage with powdered milk as its price is far cheaper than that of fresh milk.
According to the National Dairy Board (DSN), the demand for powdered milk grew by more than 6 percent annually.
DSN chairman Teguh Beodiyana said the board had yet to receive any information about the contaminated milk, but promised to look into the matter seriously.
China’s consumer watchdog, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine named four companies that had imported potentially contaminated products from Fonterra, according to Reuters.
It identified the companies as Dumex Baby Food Co. Ltd, a subsidiary of France’s Danone, two subsidiaries of Wahaha Group, one of the largest beverage manufacturers in China, and the state-owned Shanghai Sugar, Tobacco and Alcohol company.
Reuters reported that Fonterra, a major supplier of wholesale dairy ingredients to multinational food and beverage companies, said that Coca Cola’s Chinese subsidiary and animal feed companies in New Zealand and Australia had also been affected. (tam)