The Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday that it is investigating whether any dairy products from New Zealand contaminated with a potentially hazardous substance have been imported into Taiwan.
The Wall Street Journal reported a day earlier that New Zealand’s two biggest fertilizer companies — Ravensdown Ltd and Ballance Agri-Nutrients Ltd — had suspended sales of dicyandiamide (DCD) after low levels of the toxic substance were found in dairy products.
Farmers apply DCD to pastures to prevent nitrates, a fertilizer byproduct that can also cause health problems, from getting into rivers and lakes, the report said.
It said the latest discovery could deal a blow to New Zealand’s dairy exports, which are valued at US$9.7 billion per year.
Tsai Shu-chen (蔡淑貞), a section chief at the DOH’s Food and Drug Administration, said DCD is a substance with low toxicity and that the possibility of the chemical causing acute poisoning is low.
The chemical is toxic and hazardous to human health only in high doses, she said.
The two fertilizer companies voluntarily reported the case and offered to recall the DCD-contaminated products, Tsai said, adding that the New Zealand government has set up a task force to study the feasibility of imposing a ban on DCD use in the future.
New Zealand is Taiwan’s main dairy supplier, Tsai said, adding that the nation imports large quantities of fresh milk, cream cheese, powdered milk, butter and beta serum, which is used in infant forumula, from New Zealand.
New Zealand accounted for 78.9 percent of Taiwan’s adult powdered milk imports last year and 21.7 percent of baby milk powder imports.
Tsai said her office has asked local importers of New Zealand dairy products to check whether their products have come from the 500 dairy farms that have applied DCD to their pastures.
“The importers are required to submit reports to our office from Jan. 28,” Tsai said.
Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration has also asked the New Zealand government to provide all relevant documents and data.
Lin Chieh-liang (林杰樑), director of the Department of Toxicology at Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, said DCD is not a carcinogen and has only low toxicity, but added that “animal testing shows that long-term consumption of the substance could cause kidney damage.”
High doses of the substance could cause uremia in humans, but occasional consumption is not expected to affect human health, Lin said.
The Council of Agriculture said DCD, while promoting pasture growth, can also help prevent environmental degradation.
The substance is not a veterinary drug nor a feed additive, it said, adding that as Taiwan’s dairy farms are small, the substance is not used here.
There are no international standards for acceptable levels of DCD in food products, the council added.
Meanwhile, major hypermarket chains, including Carrefour (家樂福), RT-Mart (大潤發) and Far Eastern Geant Co (愛買), said they have asked their dairy product suppliers to provide information to clarify any food-safety concerns.