Thursday, February 04, 2010

Ryan Pyle Blog: Melamine is Back


I had a chance to work on a story about Melamine in 2007, I went to the heart of Shandong province in eastern China and visited a few factories that produce the chemical and sell it to food companies. The picture above is from that series. The caption is below.

Image Caption from 2007: A worker looks through the locked front doors at the Anying Bilogical Technology Company's factory near Xuzhou, China. Recently the Xuzhou Anying Biological Technology Company has come under fire for producing wheat gluten with a chemical Melamine in it that has been responsible for the deaths of dogs and cats in North America.

In an effort to destroy confidence at the highest possible levels, and strip away public opinion even further, it appears that the Melamine scandal from 2007-08 is creeping back in to news again.

When the Melamine chemical was introduced to the global food supply by the Chinese in 2007, it artificially increases the protein content in food products, there was global condemnation of all things Chinese. Dog food was tainted, as was powered baby milk. In the US, dogs started flopping over and dying. In China, babies started showing up at hospital emergency rooms with kidney stones.

In an effort to crack down on dodgy food, and prove to the world that China wasn't killing all things cuddly, the central government sweep in and supposedly cleaned up the mess. Well, according to this article below things aren't so rosy. The Melamine tainted products that poisoned two years ago were not all destroyed, they were stockpiled to be used again.

Victims receive no compensation and lawyers trying to unite victims and bring cases against the government get thrown in jail. If China wants to become a super power and have the respect of the global community, they are going to need to create a system of values and punishments that are in line with the rest of the world. This peasant, uneducated, mentality of making a quick buck while harming people's health dominates the countryside and much of the business community in this country. Consumers are not protected from the criminally responsible companies by the government, and then when they complain publicly they face the wrath of the government to keep quiet and save face. In other words consumers are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Sounds like a great way to increase domestic consumption, screwing the domestic consumer will only push more Chinese people to buy foreign made products for nothing more than the fear of massive medical bills.

Yes it is true. Throwing party officials, and business leaders, in jail is difficult. Opening up the legal system to be fair, independent, impartial and non-political is incredibly difficult. But every year China waits to make these reforms is another year of sick babies and dying dogs. All things cuddly are going to hell in a hand-basket.

Best lines in this article are the last two, which essentially read "This country needs accountable political reform, and fast".

Copywrite: South China Morning Post
Melamine milk put back on the market

By: Fiona Tam
Updated on Feb 02, 2010

Mainland dairy producers have been using melamine-tainted milk powder seized more than a year ago in new products, prompting the authorities to launch a 10-day emergency crackdown.

Dairy products from at least five manufacturers - in Shanghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Liaoning and Hebei - have been pulled from shelves after they recycled tainted milk powder, Xinhua reported.

Some cases were reportedly covered up by the authorities for more than eight months before the public was warned about the new danger.

Health Minister Dr Chen Zhu vowed at a weekend meeting that all toxic milk power stored in warehouses across the country would be seized and inspections stepped up to stop dairy companies recycling the toxic chemical.

"A few unscrupulous companies and individuals still put profit above conscience and neglect the public's health, even though [the government] has launched a high-pressure clampdown on food safety," Xinhua quoted a statement from the work conference as saying yesterday.

Beijing vowed to implement stricter safety measures in late 2008 after a toxic milk scandal saw nearly 300,000 children fall ill with kidney problems and stoked widespread public anger in the country and shock around the world.

Twenty-one people who made or sold melamine-tainted milk powder were convicted over that scandal. Two were executed. But the authorities failed to trace how dairy companies handled the millions of tonnes of recalled milk powder.

State media reported that many tonnes of the tainted powder were stored in warehouses and reused after the scandal died down.

Toxic milk powder reappeared in the market last year after the dairy industry rebounded and the supply of milk was not able to meet demand. The industry's output jumped 32 per cent last year, and nearly 80 per cent of dairy companies made profits.

One of the new cases came to light last month when the Shanghai Panda Dairy Company was closed and three executives arrested for adding the industrial chemical to watered-down milk to make it appear sufficiently rich in protein to pass mandatory quality tests. The city denied its food safety bureau tried to cover up the scandal but it took nearly a year for the investigation to be made public.

One of the other cases saw three people from a Shaanxi dairy manufacturer arrested in December for selling 5.25 tonnes of melamine-tainted milk powder to a Guangxi dairy company in September.

Elsewhere, ice cream made in Liaoning and Hebei provinces was found to contain illegally high traces of the toxic chemical, while a Shandong company intentionally laced a milk drink with melamine.

The return of the toxic milk has raised serious questions about Beijing's previous food safety crackdown. Guangxi mother Lan Juanxian, 23, said she had lost all confidence in mainland-made dairy products after her two-year-old son was diagnosed with kidney stones.

"There is very little individuals can do under a system that gives a new post to former top food safety official Li Changjiang, who was sacked over toxic milk, but jails rights activist Zhao Lianhai after he united melamine victims," Lan said.

Her family has stopped using all mainland-made dairy products. She has received neither the compensation nor free treatment for her son promised by the central government.

Copyright © 2010 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All right reserved

Ryan Pyle

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