Tainted Milk Scandal: The Official and Unofficial Response (Updated)

More developments in the contaminated milk case. Reuters reports that the government has ordered more checks on dairy companies and recalled faulty products:

The State Council, or cabinet, also called on medical authorities to give free examinations and treatment to infants who fell ill after drinking milk contaminated with potentially deadly melamine, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The council vowed to punish enterprises and government leaders responsible for the scandal.

[…] Panicked parents have crowded hospitals and demanded redress since officials and the Sanlu Group, China’s biggest maker of infant milk powder, said last week that babies developed kidney stones and complications after drinking milk made from powder contaminated with melamine, a compound used in making plastics.

Danwei translates a news report about an acknowledgment of wrongdoing from the vice governor of Hebei Province, Yang Chongyong:

In the news conference, Yang Chongyong admitted that the local government is responsible for the Sanlu scandal. Yang also said after knowing the truth, Sanlu did try to to hush it up by paying the victims’ families and the media up until the time it submited a report to the Shijiazhuang Municipal Government on August 2. Shijiazhuang is the capital city of Hebei Province.

However, after the Shijiazhuang government received the report, it did not, as protocol requires, relay the report immediately to its superior body, the Hebei provincial governments. It was on September 9th that the provincial government finally received the report from the municipal government. But the provincial government, which was supposed to turn the report to the central government immediately, failed to do it.

If trying to cover things up is what was in the mind of the both governments, there was little point, because word of the problems had already spread, and an investigative committee from Beijing had already arrived.

– As more dismissals of people held responsible for the tainted milk are reported, the Time China blog asks, “What About Sichuan Schools?”:

…The authorities are reacting with a swiftness and decisiveness that we have commented recently appears to be very much the central government’s new prime policy when dealing with issues of this nature, a big change from the secrecy and protectiveness that characterized past reactions. But each time this happens it leaves me with a nagging thought: what about the Sichuan earthquake and the schools that collapsed because of corruption and shoddy construction? The government acknowledged that poor construction lay at the root of the problem earlier this month (see here). But so far not a single official or businessman has been detained or questioned, at least to my knowledge. Instead, police have forcibly broken up protests by grieving parents and sometimes forced parents to accept compensation and promise not to raise the issue any further.

Meanwhile, the New York Times published an editorial about the indirect threat posed to American consumers by the contamination:

We had been assured by Chinese authorities that their regulators and manufacturers were cracking down on the negligent procedures and criminal acts that have produced lead-laced toys and poisoned pet food, toothpaste and other dangerous goods. But a new scandal involving contaminated baby formula is a frightening reminder that China still is not doing enough to ensure the safety of its products — and a reminder that American importers and regulators cannot let down their guard.

The tainted milk powder has killed several babies in China and injured more than 6,000 others, many with kidney stones or kidney failure. This is an unconscionable toll and a shameful betrayal of families who relied on their government and corporate leaders to protect them.

Also from the South China Morning Post:

Days after the first revelations about babies being poisoned from industrial chemical melamine being added to milk on the mainland, its two biggest producers were still buying substandard milk from suppliers.

Investigations in Inner Mongolia, the hub of the industry, show that safety loopholes exist in almost every link of the dairy produce chain – from farms to milk-collection stations to major dairies.

Owners of collection stations that are the middlemen between farmers and production plants say they were only told this week by Mengniu Group and Yili Dairy, the mainland’s top two dairy producers, that the companies would no longer buy discounted milk that failed quality tests.

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