Tuesday, September 16, 2008

China's Sanlu milk scandal is New Zealand's disgrace

There is the headline story, and there is the real story which I suspect is much more important and far bigger. Long-term, the latter presents a more serious health threat to more people than the present media-hyped tainted milk scandal.

A partly-owned subsidiary of a New Zealand firm has been caught selling toxin-laden milk to Chinese mothers. New Zealand dairy conglomerate Fonterra is the major majority shareholder in China's Sanlu dairy. It has come to light that Sanlu milk has been contaminated with a resin used in the manufacture of plastics, cleaning fluids, and fertilizers that has sickened over one thousand Chinese babies and killed at least two.

Concerning the scandal, the leader of New Zealand's Alliance Pary has blasted Fonterra management:

Mr Billot says that there are inconsistencies about Fonterra's claim that it asked for a product recall in August 2008.

New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra says it knew in August its Chinese joint venture partner was selling contaminated milk since linked to the death of at least one baby.

He says that as a major shareholder, Fonterra management are responsible and must be held accountable.

"What kind of checks and regulation by Fonterra of their Chinese operations were carried out? I'm sure they checked out how much cash would be in it for them, so why didn't they check the safety of the production facilities?

He says the tragedy exposes the utter hypocrisy and bankruptcy of the clean, green New Zealand brand, as our leading corporate is now implicated in selling poisoned food for infants.

Mr Billot says that under free trade agreements, New Zealand was opening itself up to a future where such incidents were common.

According to a comprehensive timeline of the scandal, New Zealand's embassy in Beijing was first informed of the tainted milk in mid-August.

There's something creepy about the sale of infant milk formulas -- especially when the consumers are mothers in the developing world. I think it's even creepier when the companies pushing the milk products -- marketing them "health foods" -- are based in the West. Do Asian infants have any real dietary need for cow's milk?

The Fonterra subsidiary pushes a product -- infant milk formula -- that may well be as bad as cigarettes for human health when used as a substitute for mother's milk for the youngest infants. Science shows that breastfeeding protects infants from a range of disorders; it seems reasonable to speculate that the antibodies contained in breast milk may be particularly vital helping Chinese infants to cope with China's polluted and disease-outbreak prone environment.

According to the Malyasia Star, "Sanlu dominates in poorer rural areas, where farmer and migrant workers often find milk powder is easier than breast-feeding, and sometimes believe it is also healthier."

The contamination issue aside, by owning a 43 percent stake in Sanlu, Fonterra was already invested in a line of business of questionable ethics.

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