Chinese media go hard on Fonterra botulism scareAudio: Chinese media go hard on Fonterra botulism scare (ABC Rural)

Chinese parents have long been sceptical of domestic dairy products and infant milk formulas.

Now there are concerns that foreign infant milk formulas can’t be trusted either.

New Zealand dairy giant, Fonterra, has recalled 1000 tonnes of dairy products because the bacteria that causes botulism, a potentially fatal disease, was found in it’s whey powder.

Associate Professor in business journalism at Shanghai’s Fudan University, Doug Young, says it has been big news in China across all media platforms.

“It’s really been Fonterra week here in China. The ban on imports has been in the news, but it’s part of a long stream series of headlines that has been all over the Chinese media for the last three or four days. It’s been front page news here in China,” he said.

Chinese consumers are extremely wary towards domestic dairy brands such as Sanlu and Mengniu, due to past scandals.

Mr Young says that the Chinese media are reporting heavily on this recent scare, particularly because it involves a foreign brand.

“I do think that the media is jumping on this more than they might if it is a Chinese company. That said, they would also be all over this if it is was a Chinese company, but I think the fact that it is a foreign company drives home the point that foreign companies are guilty of these same sort of food safety issues as Chinese companies.

“If anything, it should boost confidence by the Chinese in the foreign brands, because it’s showing that the foreign brands, as soon as they hear problems they are very transparent and they move immediately to fix it.

“If it had been a Chinese company, they would have tried to cover up the problem, they would have hoped that it never came out, they would have tried to fix it behind the scenes, they probably wouldn’t have told anyone about it.”

But Mr Young says that Fonterra’s brand and the New Zealand dairy industry as a whole won’t survive unscathed by any means.

“When people read negative reports about a company likes this, especially when it involves food safety and could involve things consumed by little children, I think it’s definitely going to hurt Fonterra’s image in the short term.

“The biggest losers in this equation, once again, are Chinese parents.

“If you’re a Chinese parent, you’re probably thinking geez, what do I do?”