One of China’s biggest dairy producers received consumer complaints about its baby milk formula as early as December 2007 — much earlier than previously thought and 10 months before the producer ordered a nationwide recall because of concerns that the formula had been adulterated with a toxic industrial chemical, state media said Tuesday.
The disclosure, in a government report publicized by the official Xinhua News Agency, is the latest indication that the producer, Sanlu Group, had repeatedly tried to hide information about its contaminated dairy supplies from the public.
China’s hosting of the Olympics is cited as one reason why complaints were not revealed to the public.
Earlier this month, government investigators said that Sanlu officials had delayed acting on consumer complaints and warnings in June, and that local government officials in Hebei knew of the problems in early August, just before the Olympic Games opened in Beijing.
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Powerful individuals often hold both important economic and political posts. For instance, Sanlu’s chairwoman, who was sacked, was also an important local Communist Party official.
“The reality in China is there’s no separation at all,” said Arthur Kroeber, Beijing-based editor of China Economic Quarterly. “It’s endemic.”
Particularly damning are suggestions that local officials and top executives were warned about the problem in March, or even earlier. But with little pressure from voters, shareholders, an independent news media or consumer advocates, those involved apparently felt little need to address it.
Investigators haven’t fully explained what happened, but analysts suspect that a near-total ban on bad news before the Olympics led to a coverup that jeopardized the lives of thousands more children.