Now the world knows that China’s leading milk powder maker is engulfed in a PR crisis, for failing to promptly recall contaminated baby formula. But there’s yet more to dig out, such as whether the timing of the company’s cover-up took advantage of the Olympics. Please read the following questions from a Sina blogger, translated by CDT:
Sanlu Group, based in Shijiangzhuang, reportedly disclosed the milk powder contamination and called for a product recall, saying that it found melamine in its baby formula products totaling 700 tons. Experts from the Ministry of Health noted that melamine is a chemical material that could cause kidney stones. And so the culprit in the many cases of babies having kidney stones was nailed.
But then there is another puzzle: Why did Sanlu add melamine to its products in the first place?
On the morning of Sept. 12, news came out of Sanlu that the company learned on Aug. 1 that some dairy farmers added the chemical into their milk sold to the plants. The company then immediately reported up to the health ministry and wanted to issue a recall through a ministry-sponsored news conference.
Now the focus seems to be on who’s responsible. Sanlu says it is the dairy farmers who are to blame. Even so, the products came out of Sanlu’s plants and the company’s responsibility cannot be written off. But with the aforementioned pieces of information, it’s difficult to not raise suspicions.
First, if the truth was discovered on Aug. 1, why did they recall all products made before Aug. 6? They knew on Aug. 1 that milk powder was contaminated, but why was there still contamination between Aug. 1 and 6? What were the oversight agencies doing then? Why didn’t Sanlu act to prevent the situation from getting worse? Those who are in the business know that it’s easy to test the concentration of protein in a product and tell the composition of nitrogen, which is part of melamine. We cannot rule out the possibility that Sanlu knew this well and it added the chemical itself, not caring about the consumers.
Second, why was the recall issued on Sept. 11 if the problem was discovered on Aug. 1? What were the watchdog agencies doing during this period of time? Was this related to the ongoing Beijing Olympic Games? Was it that some local government officials were using the Olympics as an excuse to cover up?
According to information available so far, the number of potential victims could be over 30,000, mostly babies. Such widespread damage could be well contained with timely action; why it was delayed for a month?
Could Propaganda Department: A 21-Point Directive On Reporting Olympics be the reason? The number eight point of such directive said: “8. All food safety issues, such as cancer-causing mineral water, is off-limits.”
Also, if you want to get an idea of how the Chinese government is handling the post-scandal media since the milk powder contamination was revealed, here are instructions reportedly from the propaganda bureau on how to report the incident. Translated by CDT from sanernanxun blog (original text is already deleted by the Internet censors):
Recently, the Sanlu mild powder contamination story attracted a lot of attention on the Internet. Now we are issuing some requirements for managing online news publishing:
1. Strictly standardize news sources, only use dispatches from Xinhua, People’s Daily and other central media outlets.
2. Do not make any headlines or features on this topic. Emphasize the government’s handling of the crisis and progress, and the care given to the babies by hospitals and other care providers.
3. Forums and blogs should not recommend this topic, not put it on the top of their pages, and the atmosphere and number of threads in the forums should be monitored and controlled.
4. Firmly block and delete information and posts that criticize the Party, the government, instigate petitioning and spread rumors.
5. Mobilize online commentators to guide the opinions. The general guidance should be based on information released by the Ministry of Health, and lead online users to support the Party and the government, convey the effectiveness of the efforts by concerned agencies.
4、坚决封堵和删除将矛头指向党和政 府、煽 动维 权 上 访、散 布谣 言等有害信息。
5、组织网 评 员开展网上引导。引导口径以卫生部等部门对外发布的正面信息为准，积极引导网 民支持党和政府的态度和立场，相信有关部门所作的努力及取得的成效。)
Other bloggers have dug out the following glowing report from CCTV about the Sanlu Group’s quality production process last year, translated by M. J.. Now the phrase “1100 inspections” have already become the latest black humor line in the Chinese blogosphere.
On September 2, CCTV broadcast a special program on its “Weekly Quality Report” titled “‘Made in China'” – Series Premiere – The story behind 1100 inspections.” CCTV investigated in detail the production process of the Sanlu infant milk powder, demonstrating that Sanlu Group exemplifies an excellent business model of ensuring product quality and strict, scientific management.
At the end of July, a CCTV reporter in a Beijing supermarket saw before the shelves of milk powder a particularly eye-catching ad for Sanlu. The ad claimed that the infant milk formula passes “1100 tests, safeguards the health care of babies and is trusted by mothers everywhere!” However, some consumers have expressed doubt over the claim that the Sanlu milk formula would undergo 1100 tests. On August 1, a CCTV reporter, bringing with him numerous inquiries, conducted an in-depth, meticulous secret investigation of Sanlu’s entire production process and its internal checkpoints and controls, from the source to the end product.
The reporter then conducted a subsequent detailed investigation of milk ingredients, milk processing and packaging, storage and sanitation, and other points in the production chain through secret visits and inspection. He also visited the five dairy farms and two processing plants, and witnessed the same processes. Seeing is believing. After more than ten days of investigations, the CCTV reporter carefully calculated that the Sanlu infant formula is made from fresh milk from cows whose diet is controlled by cutting-edge technology, then passes through a chain of cold storage and transportation, testing of raw ingredients, addition of nutrients, sterilization, enrichment, spray drying, packaging, and another series of inspections. Indeed, after more than 1100 tests, the formula is then finally distributed nationwide.
It is understood that the Sanlu Group has more than 50 years of experience specializing in the production of dairy products, and is the leading enterprise in China in the production of infant formula. Sanlu milk sales have remained the first in the nation for fourteen consecutive years. In June 2006, it formed a joint venture with New Zealand company Heng Natural, adopting world-class dairy research and manufacturing capacity. In July 2006, Sanlu won an award for its brand-name status in the Chinese dairy industry.
Sanlu Group Vice CEO Yu-Liang Wang said that the infant milk powder affects the next generation’s health and growth, and affects moreover the overall quality of the Chinese people. The production chain for the infant formula is quite long, and has to do with livestock breeding, cow disease prevention, inspection of imported raw ingredients, semi-finished products, and packaging materials. Every technological requirement must be perfect, the quality of the product is the infant’s life, and is also the life of the enterprise. Over the years, Sanlu Group has shouldered to the utmost degree its responsibility and mission to ensure the highest quality and safety of each bag of infant formula!
Many bloggers angrily point out that the contaminated Sanlu baby formula is particularly produced and targeted to low-price rural markets. Poor farmers will buy them to feed their babies. And it is this “inexpensive” product which has tripolycyanamide mixed in. Even the Sanlu Group now blames milk farmers for being responsible for the contamination. Few netizens took that company statement at face value. Cartoonist/blogger Guaiguai’s response is:
“Mother Grass” (Cao Ta Ma) (Cao in Chinese means grass, which also has a similar pronunciation with the Chinese f-word)
The boss: Not my fault, dairy farmers are to blame.
Dairy farmer: Not my fault, the cows are to blame.
Cow: Not my fault either, the grass is to blame.
Son grass: Not my fault either, my mother is to blame…
Mother grass: Cao!
From QQ: Sanlu used four cases of milk powder and an agreement to seal Zhejiang Province Wang Yuan-ping’s mouth:
Note: This QQ news article was available yesterday afternoon but is no longer available. However, there is still a link to it in the list of all 2008 September 13 QQ news articles and the original text was reposted in the various forums below.
Chinese netizens discovered a Tianya post titled “This formula can be used for disaster relief?” written by someone called “78900880088″ on 2008 May 21.
In this post, “78900880088″ describes his nightmare dealing with Sanlu and the government department responsible for inspecting and handling food safety problems. His daughter had developed problems after drinking Sanlu milk and after submitting samples of the product to Sanlu for testing, Sanlu would only refund or exchange but not let him know the test results because it was a “commercial secret.”
“78900880088″ then tried the government department responsible for handling these food safety inspection and problems. They told him that the only way he could get the test results to determine the problems with the milk, he would need to go to a third party and that it would cost him tens of thousands of RMB. Without any other option, he was posting on Tianya for help and appealing to the media.