Nestle has been forced to mount a rearguard PR operation after becoming embroiled in the Chinese baby milk powder scandal this week.
The firm faced accusations that some of its Chinese products were contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, following the deaths of four infants in China from products manufactured by other baby milk suppliers.
Supermarket chains in Hong Kong started recalling Nestle products after a local newspaper, the Chinese-language Apple Daily, said it found traces of melamine in Nestle pure milk.
That result was apparently confirmed by tests undertaken by the Hong Kong government. A spokesman for the government's Centre for Food Safety said: 'Based on the low level detected, normal consumption will not pose a major health risk. However, it is not advisable for small children to consume the product.'
Nestle's press team responded quickly, issuing two statements in as many days to reassure global consumers its products were safe.
The first statement read: 'Nestle is confident that none of its products in China is made from milk adulterated with melamine. Over the past weeks, the Chinese authorities have carried out widespread tests and included Nestle in a list of companies or brands where no melamine was found in the respective products.'
The second statement reaffirmed the company's view that all its milk products in China and Hong Kong were 'absolutely safe'.
Tesco became involved in the scandal after it withdrew from sale hundreds of bags of Chinese-made children's sweets over fears they contained the deadly chemical. A spokeswoman said it withdrew White Rabbit Creamy Candies from 'a very small number' of UK stores.
Other brands have been quick to distance themselves from the crisis. Baby milk brands Cow & Gate and Aptamil both put statements on their websites stating that their products were safe for consumption.
Baby Milk Action's policy director Patti Rundall said the charity was hoping the crisis would focus attention on baby milk product recalls across the globe: 'There are millions of babies dying around the world because of inappropriate feeding. I hope this tragedy will encourage journalists to look deeper into the subject.'
A DEVELOPING SCANDAL
- 22 September: The head of China's product quality watchdog agency resigns
- 16 September: A nationwide inspection of 109 Chinese baby milk powder companies uncovers 22 with traces of melamine
- 11 September: Sanlu recalls 700 tons of baby formula
- 8-24 August: Beijing Olympics take place
- 6 August: Sanlu pulls baby milk powder from distributors, but does not issue a public recall
- June 2008: Sanlu learns its milk powder is contaminated with melamine, according to the Chinese state broadcaster
- Dec 2007: Sanlu Group receives complaints from consumers that its infant formula was making babies sick, says China Central Television, citing findings from a State Council Investigation
4 Children have died from contaminated baby milk
53,000 Infants have been sickened by melamine-contaminated milk
22 Companies have found melamine in milk products
7,000 Tons of dairy products have been removed from shelves
31 Years since the 'Nestle boycott' campaign began
Source: Chinese Health Ministry.