Fonterra must apply NZ stds in China

April 20, 2009

Prime Minister John Key sees opportunities for New Zealand to help China with its food safety standards.

He’s right but with the opportunities come risks, one of which is an association with New Zealand or New Zealand companies and their products if standards aren’t up to scratch.

Another is the difficulty of  transferring our standards to a country with a very differenct culture, customs and ethics.

The significance of Fonterra chairman Henry Van der Heyden accompanying Key hasn’t been missed. The company was badly bitten by its involvement with Sanlu but is looking for fresh opportunities in China.

They will have learnt from the Sanlu disaster, but I’m not yet convinced they have learnt all the lessons and realise all the risks.

One of these is the danger of selling infant milk powder in a country where companies don’t abide by the International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes.

The code was developed by the World Health Organisation in 1981 and prohibits almost all advertising of breast milk substitutes to the public.

If Fonterra is associated in any way with companies which disregard the code it risks an international backlash.

Baby Milk Action is an organisation  which monitors the baby food industry. Its website shows Sanlu advertisements which contravene the international code and it has a campaign to boycott Nestle because it breaches the code.

 If Fonterra wants to invest and operate in China it must not only ensure that the animal welfare and food health and safety standards which it requires in New Zealand are adhered to there, it must also ensure none of its produce is advertised in breach of the ICMBMS.


Chinese govt accepts partial responsibility for melamine poisoning

October 19, 2008

Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, has taken the rare step of saying the government has some responsibility for the poisoned milk scandal.

The government feels “great sorrow” over the crisis which has sickened more than 50,000 children, Wen said in an interview published in this week’s Science Magazine.

“We feel that although problems occurred at the company, the government also has a responsibility,” Wen said in the Sept. 20 interview posted on the website of the magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

A Chinese version of the interview in the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper quoted Wen as saying the government had been especially lax in “supervision and management.”

“We will handle the incident sincerely and seriously, and draw deep lessons from it,” said Wen, who has won the admiration of ordinary Chinese citizens for his visits to the country’s poor rural areas and for rallying victims of the devastating May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province.

This is a big admission from the leader of a country which rarely admits the government makes mistakes.

But I don’t expect his contrition to extend to an acknowledgement that a lack of media freedom exacerbated the problems because the scandal was not widely publicised until long after the link between infant formula and babies becomeing ill was known.


Chinese dairy companies apologise

October 13, 2008

Three Chinese dairy companies have apologised for their part in the melamine poisoning of milk used for infant formula.

Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, Mengniu Dairy and Bright Dairy Group were earlier found to have produced milk contaminated with melamine.

The scandal has savaged the companies’ share prices and prompted Seattle-based coffee chain Starbucks to pull Mengniu milk from its 300-plus stores last month.
  
Chinese health officials say nearly 10,700 infants and children are still in hospital after drinking milk and formula contaminated with melamine.

Still no more than four dead – I hope that is the true number and not a result of censorship.


More questions for Fonterra

October 5, 2008

Inquiring Mind asks several questions of Fonterra. in the wake of the melamine milk poisoning in China.

I have some more:

                    What is Fonterra’s policy on advertising infant milk formula?

                     Does it have different policies in different countries?

                    Does it know if San Lu, in which it has a 43% stake, was one of the Chinese companies which contributed to the $765 million spent on advertising baby milk formula in China last year?


Parents sue Sanlu

October 2, 2008

The parents of a one year old baby have sued Sanlu  because he developed kidney stones after drinking infant formula contaminated by melamine.

The case is being represented by Ji Cheng . . . [who] said his clients sought legal help because they could no longer afford medical treatment for their child, the report said.

Even though China’s State Council, the Cabinet, has ordered hospitals to provide free health care for sick children, the facility where this child was being treated, Beijing Children’s Hospital, only offers free treatment to children diagnosed after September 12, when the scandal broke, the magazine said.

It said Ji’s clients have had to foot all medical expenses incurred since June, when the baby started showing symptoms.

Fonterra has a 43% stake in Sanlu which is one of 22 companies in China which used milk poisoned by melamine to produce baby formula.

Update: Macdoctor has more on this here.


Scandal behind milk scandal

October 1, 2008

Behind the melamine poisoned milk scandal in China is another one – the economic and commercial pressure on women to use infant formula rather than breast feeding their babies themselves.

Country women go to cities for work, leaving their babies back home with their families, and advertising persuades mothers that baby formula is better than breast milk.

You can read the sorry saga here.

No companies advertise infant forumla in New Zealand. No New Zealand company should be involved in a company which advertises it elsewhere.


How many babies have died?

September 30, 2008

Have you noticed anything more on the number of babies in China who’ve died or become ill after being fed baby formula made from milk poisoned by melamine?

I’ve been checking the web for stories and haven’t found any updates since last week’s report of four dead babies and many thousand others who are ill.

Does the absence of news mean there have been no more deaths, or that more babies have died but authorities have clamped down on the media so it’s not being reported?

Update: The Guardian  reports:

The government is now playing down the scandal and Chinese lawyers and advocates who have promised to help the families of sick children seek redress say they are facing pressure to abandon the efforts from officials in some provinces.

“About two dozen of the lawyers have called these past days to say they want to quit the volunteer advice group,” Li Fangping, a Beijing lawyer who helped organise the group, told Reuters.

“Some of them said that they or their offices were told they’d face serious repercussions if they stayed involved.”

Even if the media did report numbers, could we believe them?


Wet nurses wanted in China

September 28, 2008

The Australian reports that wet nurses are cashing in  on the poisoned milk scandal in China.

MANY middle-class Chinese families already have a maid, or aiyi. Now they are rushing to hire a wet nurse, or nai ma, too, as anxiety surges about milk-powder poisoning.

Agencies throughout the country that routinely hire out domestic servants for house-cleaning, cooking and child minding, are now adding wet nurses as a new category.

In the wealthy southern city of Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, the Daily Sunshine newspaper said that rich families seeking wet nurses were prepared to pay $3150 a month – more than three times the average income.

One domestic services agency in Shenzhen has been receiving 50 calls a day from parents wanting wet nurses.

Manager Ai Xiaoxiong said: “We only had one or two such inquiries a year in the past.”

Most Chinese parents have in recent years been feeding their babies bottled milk, promoted as more nutritious and better for the mothers’ figures. But the panic over the safety of China’s dairy products, after four babies died and 53,000 were taken to hospital as a result of consuming milk contaminated by melamine, has changed attitudes overnight.

Yanhong Wheeler, a best-selling Chinese author on raising children, under the name Xiao Wu, said: “There are more than 400 nutrients in breast milk that no milk powder can imitate. But no melamine.”

Paying a wet nurse enables well-paid mothers to continue working more easily, as well as meeting the need for reliable milk for their children.

Mr Ai said that wet nurses’ pay had more than tripled following the milk disaster.

The rewards are attracting young women to become career wet nurses. The Shenzhen Daily spoke with a woman who was a department store sales person in Sichuan province, before she quit in order to give birth last month. Now she is already planning a new job as a wet nurse: “I have plenty of breast milk. Why not? It’s a very good offer, as I only made 2000 yuan before” – about $350 per month, a typical wage. Now she can afford to buy expensive imported milk powder for her own baby.

Zhongjia Housework Agency manager Zhang Guixui said that parents were focused on the wet nurse’s health, so her agency insisted on “a strict physical check on everything from HIV to skin diseases”. She knew a case where a wet nurse was required by the parents to drink only fresh chicken soup, made from birds air-freighted from overseas.

The World Health Organisation is opposed to any advertsing of breast-milk substitutes and this is adhered to in western countries. That baby formula has been promoted in China, and no doubt other countries, as better than breast milk is another scandal.

And what does is say about the desperate circumstances of a woman that she will breast feed someone else’s child yet put her own on forumula?


Was Sanlu advertising infant formula?

September 21, 2008

Heinz was prevented from advertising a change in its baby formula  which made some babies ill in New Zealand because of a code banning the advertsing of alternatives to breast milk.

But in China, where four babies have died and thousands are ill because of drinking infant formula poisoned by melamine, the Sunday Star Times (not on line) reports:

… breast feeding has gone out of fashion.

Most mothers return to work soon after giving birth. Few work places provide a private location for expressing breast milk. even mothers who do breastfeed often give formula as a supplement in the mistaken belief that their breast milk is not enough.

World Health Organisation guidelines which discourage advertisements for breast milk substitutes are generally strictly adhered to in developed countries. But are they everywhere?

There are many concerns over the way Fonterra has handled the problem of Sanlu, in which it has a 43% share, using contaminated milk in the production of infant formula. This report suggests we have reason to ask if the company breached WHO advertising standards too:

“. . .  and its advertising was famous for boasting that its formula underwent ‘1100 tests, safeguards the health care of babies and is trusted by mothers everywhere’.”

No company Fonterra is involved in would advertise breast milk substitutes in New Zealand. It should not allow any company it is involved with to do anything to get in the way of the message that breast milk is best for babies anywhere else either.


Can’t argue about quality

September 19, 2008

The ODT editorial sums up the issue of Fonterra’s handling of the poisoned milk in China:

Quality control where food products are concerned is simply unarguable and the damage done for the lack of it to Fonterra’s good name by this tragic event suggests the company needs to have taken, and to continue to take, a great deal more direct interest in such partnerships.

Fonterra CEO  Andrew Ferrier is right that the poisoning was sabotage and that the problem spread far wider than his company. But there were concerns about Chinese food safety standards so Fonterra should have been far more cautious and rigorous about quality control with Sanlu in which it has a 43% stake.

If it couldn’t have prevented the problem it should have gone public far sooner after it was recognised. If they weren’t able to do that in China they could have done it here so that in spite of the repressive controls on media there the word would have got out.

Public health ought to have been their first priority and if they hadn’t wanted to risk business relationships in China by doing it openly they could have done it quietly then put the blame on our media. But they should have done it as soon as possible after concerns were raised.

Whether that would have saved any babies’ lives and lessened the severity of or prevented illness in others is a moot point. But there would have been no hesitation about a public recall of contaminated infant milk formula here and there shouldn’t have been there.

The only way Fonterra, or any other New Zealand company which goes in to business overseas, can safeguard its reputation, is to ensure that it has the same safety standards and concern for public health there as it does here.

Dig N Stir and Macdoctor have related posts.


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