Thursday, October 02, 2008

Inside China’s milk scandal

Asia Pacific Post: Wed, October 01 2008
edit pix copy For over six months Wang Yuanping was trying to find out why his 13-year-old daughter was getting sick after drinking Sanlu milk.

Her urine was sticky and yellowish.

There were mysterious granules in her discharge, and she suffered from occasional bouts of diarrhoea.
But the symptoms disappeared once she stopped drinking Sanlu’s “high calcium powdered milk.”

The 40-year-old office worker in eastern Zhejiang province’s Taishun County had tried - and failed - to get Sanlu, the Chinese dairy giant at the centre of the current tainted milk scandal, to explain but to no avail.

He rang Sanlu’s customer hotline to report the matter, but was told there was no problem and was offered refunds.

Wang refused and said that what he wanted from Sanlu was the test results, as he was concerned for not just his own daughter but other children as well.

Sanlu told him that the test report was confidential as it involved commercial secrets.

Wang then tried the local consumer watchdog instead.

But that did not go anywhere.

Last March, he lodged a formal request at the local county’s industry and commerce bureau so that a formal investigation into Sanlu’s milk powder could commence.

He was told that he would have to fork out in advance the fees for the tests, which could cost more than 10,000 yuan ($1,500).

By then the milk powder he had been buying for his daughter at the local supermarket had been replaced with a new batch and had different packaging.

In May, he turned to the Internet to get answers from Sanlu.

It was only then that the size and the scope of the problem began to emerge.

It was also then that China and Sanlu began to cover up the scandal.

Wang got a visit from a Sanlu official who offered him four cases of milk powder worth nearly 2,500 yuan ($375), or nearly 10 times the value of the milk powder he had bought earlier at the supermarket.

In exchange Wang would have to return his earlier purchases and take down the Internet postings.
Fearing ramifications, Wang relented.

Now, disclosures by China’s official Xinhua news agency say that Sanlu knew about the problems as early as last December.

They officially reported the matter to Beijing on August 2 of this year, six days before the opening of the Beijing Olympics.

But China was not going to send out an alert with over 20,000 foreign journalists camped out in Beijing for the Olympics. Any such move would have been a public relations disaster for the communist nation’s coming out party.

This cover up comes as no surprise.

China did the same thing when the SARs crisis broke.

The tainted milk cover up illustrates China’s archaic system of food inspection, corruption and lack of enforcement in policing its massive market.

Today from Canada to India, the Philippines to Europe and all over Asia, more than 50,000 children, most aged under three, have fallen ill after drinking the infant formula.

Several have died and almost 13,000 are still in hospital, at least 100 of them in critical condition from kidney failure.

This conspiracy of silence by China is criminal and should be condemned.
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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