THE New Zealand Government is being accused of trying to conceal the discovery of chemical residue in dairy products.Small levels of the chemical dicyandiamide (DCD), used in fertilisers, have been found in some milk powder products and safety concerns have been reported in foreign media.
Primary Industries Minister David Carter says officials are talking to consumers in China and Taiwan to assure them the products are safe.
He says DCD was discovered in the milk products in September and he first knew about it in October.
"There was never any attempt by the New Zealand industry or Government to hide that fact," he said yesterday.
New Zealand Labour's primary industries spokesman, Damien O'Connor, doesn't buy that, however.
"How Mr Carter can now say the Government has been `upfront' about something it was obviously trying to keep from the public is beyond me," he said.
"Whether it was hushed up for three months because of food safety fears or concern over the float of Fonterra units, all its done is put off the hard sell - both National and Fonterra have to explain to consumers, farmers and outside investors why disclosure didn't occur back in September."
Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings accused Mr O'Connor of endangering the dairy industry with his "drastic" allegations.
"If you do those allegations you better come up with some evidence," he said.
"It is a New Zealand issue, you are attacking your key sector in this country... I don't like this kind of attitude."
The level of residue found in the milk powder is reported to have been 100 times lower than European Union limits, but in other parts of the world there are no standards.
Dairy industry officials say a 60kg person would have to drink 130 litres of milk or 60kg of powder to reach the European limit.
Mr Carter says farmers have stopped using the fertiliser but could go back to it if acceptable guidelines are adopted in countries which don't have standards.
The Green Party says the products should be "100 per cent clean" and the government shouldn't expect other countries to accept anything less.