Not another Chinese milk scandal

August 12, 2010

When I heard the news yesterday that hormones in milk might be behind the early sexual development of Chinese girls I feared the worst.

This was going to be a repeat of the Sanlu melamine poisoning scandal and once more Fonterra was implicated.

The company was quick to say:

Fonterra is a supplier of milk powder to Synutra International but we understand Synutra sources some milk locally and imports whey powder from Europe.

In New Zealand there are strict legislative controls on the use of Hormonal Growth Promotants (HGPs) – they are not allowed to be used on milking cows.

The strict controls mean that it is not necessary for New Zealand milk or milk products to be routinely tested.

Fonterra remains 100% confident about the quality of its products.

Thankfully our reputation for high standards of food safety mean when Fonterra says this.

Thankfully too,  Dunedin School of Medicine’s head of paediatrics Professor Barry Taylor says it’s unlikely milk powder is the cause.

“If there were three cases here in Otago I probably would not jump up and down. And certainly not if there were three cases in several many millions of people. There would be a natural number occurring, and I suspect, [if milk powder was the cause] there would be somewhat more than three,” Taylor told ONE News.

But false alarm or not, it is another reminder that the standards we adhere to in New Zealand are not those in all other countries.

Where Fonterra would almost certainly believed, the story of the cover-ups in the Sanlu scandal  show that it would be difficult to put the same level of trust in Chinese companies.

Adolf at No Minsiter says this is the reason we should prevent Chinese interests from buying up large chunks of our dairy industry.

I wouldn’t go that far but I do think it is essential that the integrity of our food production and processing is safeguarded whether it is foreign companies operating here or ours operating in other countries.

We can’t compete on price with countries like Brazil but we can compete on quality. Food safety is an important ingredient in our reputation for quality and we can not afford to have it compromised by people who don’t share our standards.


On-line reselling has dangers for buyers and producers

January 16, 2010

The Food Safety Authority is invetigating claims that Chinese people are buying large amounts of New Zealand infant  milk powder here to sell on-line in their home country.

It’s understandable that parents in China don’t trust their own milk powder in the wake of the Sanlu melamine poisoning, but buying on-line has risks too.

Producers are concerned that their product may be sold in a damaged state which may compromise the safety of the product and reflect badly on them.

Another concern is that the contents of the tins may not even be New Zealand milk powder.

Immense damage could be done to New Zealand’s reputation for safe food products if their were problems with the standard of something purporting to be our produce.

It is difficult to police internet sales and the buyer should always beware. But there is little a company can do to stop people buying their produce and selling it on-line in other countries, or using their containers to sell an inferior substitute.


Chinese govt pressures poisoned milk victims to drop law suits

March 18, 2009

Families of children who were poisoned by melamine tainted milk in China are being pressured by government officials to drop law suits seeking compensation.

Local officials were calling and visiting at least a half-dozen families, urging them to drop their cases against the dairies and accept a government-sanctioned compensation plan giving 2,000 yuan ($290) to most victims, said Zhao Lianhai, the father of a child who was sickened by the milk.

At least one family has decided to back out of their lawsuit, Zhao said Tuesday.

. . .  The accusations that local officials are trying to intimidate victim’s families come despite this month’s announcement by the executive vice president of China’s highest court, Shen Deyong, that parents who rejected the government’s compensation plan were welcome to file lawsuits against the dairies.

It was not clear why local officials would try to stop the families after Shen’s announcement. But different levels of government in China often disagree on how to handle matters, and local officials may see lawsuits as a threat to their authority with the potential to upset stability in their community.

Politics within politics was blamed for the delay in withdrawing contaminated milk from sale in the first place. The damage that did is being compounded by this attempt to stop families from seeking compensation.

Money won’t bring back a dead baby but it will help pay for care for children who have on-going health problems as a result of drinking the infant formula which was poisoned with melamine.


Who was scared?

February 21, 2009

The headline said: Second melamine scare for Fonterra so I read the story to find out who was scared.

It wasn’t Fonterra.

It wasn’t the company which supplied Fonterra.

It wasn’t food safety authorities.

And it wasn’t consumers.

So was there anything to be scared about?

No. Fonterra did the sensible thing when told there was possible contamination in the iron it used in 12 products:

Fonterra immediately stopped all production using the supplement and undertook extensive testing of the affected batches.

Nothing was found to cause concern, production resumed with iron which has been tested and found to be free of melamine.

The Minister of Food Safety, Kate Wilkinson,  has issued a media release, complete with time line and Q&A on melamine but there is nothing in any of that to indicated she was scared.

So who was scared?

Nobody and there was nothing to be scared of which has prompted Macdoctor to define a new media genre – spam journalism.


Melamine scandal gets murkier for Fonterra

January 28, 2009

Tian Wenhua the former chairwoman of Sanlu who was convicted for her part in the melamine milk poisoning scandal said she acted on advice given by a Fonterra board member.

But Fonterra’s chief executive Andrew Ferrier says the company was always clear there was no safe level of melamine in milk.

China’s state news agency, Xinhua,  . . .  said rather than stopping production of tainted products after the contamination was confirmed on August 1 last year, Sanlu decided to limit melamine levels to within 10mg for every kilogram of milk.

“Tian said during her trial that she made the decision not to halt production of the tainted products because a board member, designated by New Zealand dairy product giant Fonterra that partly owned Sanlu Group, presented her a document saying a maximum of 20mg of melamine was allowed in every kg of milk in the European Union,” Xinhua said. “She said she had trusted the document at that time.”

Mr Ferrier told the Herald a Fonterra representative had given Tian the document soon after the board was advised of the contamination on August 2.

“The context was when this whole thing broke there was an enormous amount of work going on to find out what melamine was and there was research all over the world about its contaminants, its danger,” Mr Ferrier said. “There was information pulled up from Europe, from the US, everywhere.”

. . . Mr Ferrier said: “I do want to be crystal, crystal clear – although there was lots of information that was pulled up we were vividly clear to Sanlu that the only acceptable level [of melamine] was zero.”

At no point did Fonterra tell Sanlu it was acceptable to keep producing to the melamine level in the report, he said. “Absolutely not, absolutely not.”

I believe Ferrier but it’s not me he needs to convince, it’s consumers who rely on the company’s commitment to the highest possible safety standards for its products.

Just a few months ago Fonterra was being held up as the model to which other processors of primary products should aspire. The fall in world commodity prices is  a large part of the reason this has changed and the company can’t be held responsible for that. But another reason is that it has not handled the melamine scandal well.

As Keeping Stock says:

. . . Fonterra still has a lot of questions to answer, and there’s no escaping the perception, whether merited or not, that Fonerra has been less than transparent throughout.

Fonterra has appeared to be on the backfoot throughout  the whole sorry saga and Roarprawn  is right when she says the company needs a rocket.

Paul Henry discussed the issue with Fran O’Sullivan on Breakfast yesterday and she said that the company made a fundamental mistake at the start by thinking the scandal could be isolated as a Chinese problem. She also said that journalists have been unimpressed by the slow response from the company.

A large company ought to understand the importance of not just being on top of such a potentially damaging issue but showing the world it is on top of it. Regardless of how well the Fonterra may be handling things behind the scenes its poor public relations are giving the impression it’s not handling things well at all and allowing questions over its involvement in the melamine scandal to fester.


What has Fonterra learned?

January 23, 2009

What would Fonterra have done differently before investing in China if the company could have foreseen the melamine poisoning which killed at least six babies, poisoned tens of thousands of others and has led to the chair of Sanlu, Tian Wenhua,  being sentenced to life imprisonment  and two men who supplied melamine being sentenced to death?

The answer to that hypothetical question probably doesn’t matter.

But what Fonterra has learned from the experience does matter  if the company has any thoughts of investing in China in the future.

It’s a vast country with a very large population which means there are big opportunities for investment, but the Sanlu experience shows there are also huge risks.


6 Chinese babies dead & 300,000 sickened by melamine milk

December 3, 2008

China has admitted that six babies died and 300,000  became ill after drinking milk made from powder which had been poisoned by melamine.

The scandal has been met with public dismay and anger, particularly among parents who feel the government breached their trust after their children were sickened or died from drinking infant formula authorities had certified as safe.

The Health Ministry’s revised death toll is twice the previous figure, while the new count of 294,000 babies who suffered urinary problems from drinking contaminated infant formula is a six-fold increase from the last tally in September.

“Most of the sickened children received outpatient treatment for only small amounts of sand-like kidney stones found in their urinary systems, while some patients had to be hospitalized for the illness,” the ministry said in a statement late Monday.

The latest statistics show that China’s communist leaders are slowly acknowledging the scale of China’s worst food safety scare in years. During such crises, the government often deliberately releases information piecemeal in part to keep from feeding public anger.

Thousands of parents have been clamouring for compensation for their sickened and dead children. The release of the figures raises the question of whether the Health Ministry is getting closer to finalizing a compensation scheme.

“The new figures are more realistic and objective than previous figures. We knew the previous ones could not have been accurate,” said Chang Boyang, a Beijing lawyer who has provided legal assistance to families of children who became ill.

Six deaths from such a serious and widespread problem still seems very low, although at least it is an indication that authorities are being more open about the scale of the scandal.

Morning Report said that Sanlu, one of the companies most badly affected  by the poisoning, has begun selling milk powder again and that people are accepting reassurances that it is safe.

Fonterra, which has a 40% stake in Sanlu, announced a 60 cents reduction in its forecast payout for this season, partly because of losses associated with the melamine scandal.


%d bloggers like this: