Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dairy-Free Diet

Since I first arrived in China, I've been regularly using soy milk in my cereal, but occasionally would drink a small box carton of UHT milk if the hunger pangs arose.

Luckily the brand I drank most of is San Yuan, which so far hasn't been found to have any melamine in it, which has caused a huge scandal in the Chinese dairy industry.

So far four babies are dead, and over 6,200 diagnosed with urinary tract infections like kidney stones after drinking melamine-laced milk powder from Sanlu for the past three to six months.

But now 22 other companies have been found doing the same thing, including Yili and Mengniu. Yili was one of the official sponsors of the Olympics and Paralympics, stocking their milk and yogurt in every food stand.

I ate some of that yogurt, but officials say any food supplied to the Olympics was strictly checked and deemed safe. So does that mean there's a double standard when it comes to food products for foreigners and athletes, and those for 1.3 billion Chinese?

And now it's found that milk powder wasn't the only product contaminated -- Hong Kong officials found a yogurt ice cream bar had melamine in it and 10 percent of liquid milk has been found with melamine in it too.

How did this happen?

Apparently farmers sell their milk to collection agencies. And sometimes the milk they sell isn't of a high enough standard. So instead of refusing the milk, allegedly some buy it at a lower rate and then add melamine to "boost" the protein content of the milk before selling it to the dairy companies. Others dilute the milk and then add melamine to make more profit.

And apparently the dairy companies are unaware of this practice so they don't test for melamine in the milk they get. According to Fonterra, the New Zealand dairy company that has a 43 percent stake in Sanlu says no one in the dairy industry tests for melamine... because no one would ever think of adding it.

There are lots of questions of who knew what was going and when. Heads rolled in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province where Sanlu is based. Allegedly five of the officials there, including the mayor, knew of the problems but did nothing about them because the Olympics were on at the time or about to happen.

Regardless, it's interesting to wonder who owns the other 57 percent of Sanlu... and if pet food and toothpaste were laced with melamine last year, and now milk this year, what about the other food products we're eating? What about the soymilk I'm drinking?

People have lost faith in the government again to protect them from tainted food. But so far the government hasn't stepped in to actually look at the problem and regulate it by creating an entirely new system of how the dairy industry should be run.

Instead on Friday President Hu Jintao called for officials to take more responsibility in their work.
"Some officials have ignored public opinion and turned a blind eye to people's hardships, and even major issues that concern the lives of the masses of people.. We must learn a painful lesson from the recent accidents" that have caused great losses to people's lives and property, Hu said.

He was apparently referring to the recent mudslide in Xiangfen, Shanxi province, which killed nearly 270 people, and the milk contamination incident which has killed four children and caused urinary tract problems, including kidney stones, among more than 6,200 infants.

"Only when we strive to solve the pressing problems facing our officials and always put people first... can the Party lead the people to achieve a moderately well-off society," he said.

Hu is vague in his words as a huge hint to officials to smarten up, but at the same time doesn't want to be seen as making promises that he could be held accountable for later.

However, as children are dying or getting sick from milk their parents thought would make them healthy and strong, the government is ultimately responsible.

And not to be seen as caring for the people to create a harmonious society is the wrong approach to this incident.

In the meantime the rest of us are running out of things to eat... and only those with deep pockets can afford imported foods to stay alive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Once again China has out done itself in world class screw-up. Heads will roll over the contaminated milk. This was not the act of one person. Didn't any body ask what these people were doing with this chemical when it was purchased? Some one knew and concealed because of Olympics. We are talking about large quantity here, tons! Years of neglect in teaching fundamental human value has resulted in greedy individuals, including pliticians, profiting while putting people's lives in danger. After lead tainted toys, contaminated dog food and milk who will ever trust Chinese made goods? Unfortunately we don't seem to be able to be free of Chinese made products. I am surronded by Chinese made computer, monitor, mouse, printer..... I wonder how much pollution was created to feed world's thirst for cheap goods?