The Dandelions

.. the mutual admiration and bashing society.

China Milk Taint Scandal. Foul Play?

Posted by Foodie on September 22, 2008

Now why would someone add melamine to milk. Apparently , the unscrupulous suppliers who sold the raw milk had added the chemical melamine, normally used in plastics, to make the milk seem higher in protein. When I read this at first, it made my blood boil needless to say. And then I paused to think, is it that straight forward? Surely the people would fathom the consequences of adding chemicals to milk? Are they so short sighted to think they can actually pull this off and get away with it? This is food I’m talking about. Not just any food, mind you, a main staple for infants. Could there be foul play? Another attempt to hurt China’s manufacturing reputation? I don’t know and can’t say for sure, but at the back of my mind, I can’t help but suspect someone out there is trying to tarnish the image of China, yet again.

When I say yet again, I’m not just being biased as I too agree that there are certain unscrupulous and opportunistic small time cottage industries in China (and elsewhere in the world) who only care about profit. However in this case, we are talking about Sanlu Group Company which is 43% owned by New Zealand’s dairy farmers’ cooperative, Fonterra. Sanlu Group Co. is also China’s biggest producer of powdered milk. Surely for them, safety, quality and reputation is on their top priority as they have much to lose. They are in this for the long haul and brand image is everything to them.

However having said that, the biggest mistake China made was their delayed reaction in recalling their products fast enough even after New Zealand’s Prime Minister Helen Clark had learned of this problem on September 5 and had ordered officials to inform the senior authorities in Beijing. If this was an issue of saving face, then this time it really cost them.

This incident is an immense national shame and embarrassment to China and its product safety system.  Previously, several overhauls have been introduced in an attempt to restore consumer confidence and preserve its export markets after a string of recalls and warnings abroad over tainted goods. It is also true I believe, when China claims it has been trying very hard to comply with the rules as a good standing market player. Most people would agree when I say that the Chinese culture is very much about saving face, and a good reputation comes with the ‘face’ that needs to be saved.  So what I’m trying to say is how can anyone dispute the fact that China isn’t trying hard enough when a ‘good face’ means that much to them?

I’m sure many of you remember the incident last year when Mattel accused China of weak safety standards and recalled all of Chinese made products only to realize it was a “design flaw” in its manufacturing process. The fallout from Mattel’s recall took a bizarre turn as the toy company apologized to Beijing and took the blame for the flaws in the design regarding lead-tainted toys. The VP of Mattel himself admitted that the recalls were overly inclusive and apologized for hurting the reputation of Chinese manufacturers. However the damage was already done. Yet again.

12 Responses to “China Milk Taint Scandal. Foul Play?”

  1. SuspiciousPerson said

    Contamination at such large scale does arouse suspicion…or perhaps it was a conspriracy to damage the chinese’s reputation ???

  2. erniejean said

    I’m just outraged that the babies ended up as the innocent victims, once again :<

  3. missjolie said

    SuspiciousPerson, I am not surprised at all of a conspiracy at work here. Imagine the number of people in China who are now switching milk brands as we speak..not to mention world wide.

    As for the victims, the infants and the parents I cannot begin to imagine their anguish and sorrow…they are the unwitting and unknowing pawns.

  4. SitOn This said

    This is likely the act of sabotages.!!!!!!!

  5. GP said

    Like most Asian countries, raw milk is purchased from small, usually family-owned farms. These farms are typically operated by poor, uneducated farmers who sell their raw milk to the dairy producers like Sanlu. The quality of the milk determines the price paid; thus, in order to increase margins, the farmer will literally stick a water hose in the bucket of milk to increase the volume, and then add chemicals to fake the protein content.

    What China needs to do is produce milk the right way. They need to import higher quality forage and roughage products from forage and roughage exporters in the U.S. These higher quality feeds will lead to greater volume and higher quality milk among dairy cows. The fact is, dairy cows in China aren’t being fed as efficiently as they could. Imported fodder is expensive, but the results offset the costs.

    Frankly, these big dairy company executives aren’t stupid. They didn’t mind cutting corners and they didn’t mind paying poor farmers a little bit more; after all, the costs were easily passed-on to consumers. They were driven by greed–no different than U.S. Wall Street executives. Further, they knew about the melamine problem and kept it hidden because of the Olympics–to save face!

    Chinese dairy producers will now lose market share to foreign dairy producers–at least for a while. Chinese consumer confidence will not return until the dairy industry in China is completely overhauled.

  6. missjolie said

    GP, that’s what everyone thinks. And that’s what appears to be the case. And you are right, bottom line is Chinese dairy producers will now stand to lose an immense chunk of market share to foreign dairy producers. Who wins? Case closed? Not as simple as that imho.

    I’m sure if these farmers had wanted to add melamine to increase the protein content, would not do it now, certainly not when China’s dairy market was growing and expanding at such a rate. And certainly not when overhauls have been introduced to restore confidence after a string of recalls from abroad. All the major manufacturers would be aware of the consequences.

    Fonterra’s chief executive himself has said this is clearly a case of sabotage. Sanlu would not be so ignorant as to not realise whom they were purchasing from. These are long term contracts to produce milk for Sanlu. These small farm milk producers you mentioned, who are ‘uneducated’, I’m sure also would realise the dire consequences of adding melamine to INFANT milk powder.It’s not rocket science. Sanlu would also be aware of these ‘tactics’ employed to raise the protein content. They are a major player in the dairy industry.

    Fonterra has the largest milk powder producing facility in the world and they also hold a 43% stake in Sanlu, not to mention the board has three foreign directors. They may be greedy but clearly not stupid to kill the ‘goose that lays the golden eggs’. And this also applies to the ‘uneducated’ farmers you mentioned.

    Rumours have it that the melamine was added in the milk producing plant. It was rumoured to be an inside job. Alas, I can’t verify these rumours. Rumours are after all rumours. But I know one thing for sure, it’s not as simple as it puts out to be.

  7. GP said

    You’re right: We can’t verify the rumors. This is not the first time a large dairy or agricultural cooperative has watered-down the milk to increase profits–which makes me believe Sanlu might have had something to do with it. I apologize for my hasty response.

    The small farmer won’t typically have the financial resources for quality control and chemical testing–especially when one considers the enormous input costs (feed). In fact, the large dairy producers have the resources and responsibility to implement effective quality controls.

    Now, I’m not really convinced a small farmer would consider the consequences of adding melamine to maximize his profits. Large dairy producers are pointing the finger at small farmers–saving face? Probably! Because in China, such scurrilous behavior likely results in capital punishment.

    As for my use of the term “uneducated”, I don’t mean any disrespect to Chinese farmers. I’m really referring to lack of knowledge when it comes to well-documented best practices from APEC nations. Believe me, many organizations are working closely with the Chinese to educate them on proper dairying. Even Japan’s Asahi, known for beer, has a large, modern dairy in China. One benefit (hope) is Chinese dairy producers will see how milk is supposed to be produced.

    In due time and with proper training, China can make honest money on honest milk products. And, Chinese consumers will eventually renew their faith in Chinese dairy producers. The unfortunate thing is that it took the lives and suffering of so many innocent babies to bring it to the forefront.

  8. missjolie said

    Thanks for the insightful comments GP. I can see where you’re coming from. However for me, there seems to be something more to this than meets the eye … I am aware of China’s history on tainted goods and they are obviously an easy target to blame based on their track record. Having said that, they have evidently tried very hard to restore the confidence by upping quality controls which are far more stringent now than ever before.

    Saving face is a Chinese culture, but so is integrity and word of honour.

  9. Madame said

    Very distressing, Miss Jolie! Whoever they might be….I hope that the culprits are brought to justice.

  10. d_sticks said

    on a separate note….hookers from china are not having a good time.

    -D

  11. missjolie said

    eer.. D_sticks, you’re totally out of topic here…

  12. Jasmani said

    We seem to be looking at two extremes of the Sanlu milk supply chain, on one side the farmers and the other side, the manufacturer Sanlu, where is the middlemen? These are people that normally maximise profits, buying low from the farmers and selling high to the end buyers. Do they exits in this milk supply chain?

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