Sep 12

Tainted baby formula scandal blows up in China

Written by Nimrod on Friday, September 12th, 2008 at 8:48 am
Filed under:General, News | Tags:, , ,
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The brand is Sanlu (三鹿), one of the best known domestic manufacturers of milk products in China. sanluThe scandal involves babies falling ill across the country with kidney stones after consuming Sanlu brand baby formula that have since been found to contain melamine, which can boost the apparent protein content of the product in quality control tests. How did this happen? Sanlu says it got a tainted source of milk; nevertheless many people still speculate — based on similar “black-heart food” incidents in the past — that for reasons of profit the manufacturer knowingly kept a closed eye on doping in its food processing chain.

The basic story is here (in Chinese) and has seeped into English-speaking media also, for example here. But it is still a rapidly developing story with new information/rumors coming out every minute. At this moment it is the top discussion item pretty much everywhere in Chinese news and online forums.

China Health Bureau’s news office has confirmed that, after investigation, Shijiazhuang’s Sanlu Group’s Sanlu brand baby formula milk powder is found to be contaminated with melamine. The office reminds the public to immediately stop using this formula product, and infants who have already ingested the product and show difficulty with urination or other unusual symptoms should seek timely medical care. According to Sanlu Group’s product recall notice, the company’s internal checks have found that some batches of baby formula manufactured before 8/6/2008 were contaminated with melamine. About 700 tons of this are on the market.

Melamine can lead to stones in the urinary system. Gansu Province recently had many cases of several-month old infants falling ill with stones in the urinary system, with 59 cases reported in the province and 1 death. In these two months, provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Shandong, Anhui, Jiangxi, and Jiangsu have all reported similar cases. According to doctors, the patients had similar experiences — they have all ingested Sanlu brand baby formula.

At the same time, this reporter has discovered from various supermarkets that Sanlu baby formula manufacturered before August 6 have all been taken off shelves and ceased to be sold.

Currently the relevant departments of the State Council are taking the matter very seriously, and have formed a joint investigative group to look into and handle this incident, and to begin a full nationwide study into the medical impact on infants that may arise from this.

Netizens are not only blaming Sanlu, which has repeatedly denied problems with its product, but also the various government agencies, which have evidently acted slowly, when evidence mounted over the months. They also blame Baidu (post erased … it had this), the Chinese search company, for allegedly having “PR protection agreements” with Sanlu to filter search results for damage control.

Many also lament the myopia of Chinese companies in search of short term gain, that cut corners and deceive rather than pursue rigorous quality control and true corporate citizenship. While many would like to support a successful indigenous company with a long history like Sanlu, some believe that this episode spells the end of Sanlu and some other domestic food manufacturers, as no parent would trust Sanlu or similar brands again. They also note that in richer urban regions, parents already paid premium prices to buy imported formulas like Nestle, and it was only the poor rural families, who could only afford the inexpensive domestic brands, that now suffer.

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72 Responses to “Tainted baby formula scandal blows up in China”

  1. B.Smith Says:

    These companies are disgusting. I remember my students telling me about past problems with baby formula similar to this, and how ashamed they were. Companies like this destroy lives and tatter China’s reputation, all for a few bucks. I hope all the rabid netizens, as well as the general Chinese population, will give Sanlu and any responsible government bodies absolute hell for this debacle.

  2. pug_ster Says:

    Most Chinese who can afford it don’t even buy this brand as they know that it can’t be trusted. I think the Chinese government is taking this matter seriously as this is a good sign.

    One thing I am angry about is the way some local media here in the US is taking this. The FDA has banned Chinese made baby formula for this very reason and you can’t find this formula in any Chinese stores even if you tried. Chinese Americans know better not to buy it either and they won’t even buy it even if it is available. Yet the local media went to Chinatown reported as if they can be easily found there.

  3. Charles Liu Says:

    Oh boy, dogs in America eat better than babies in China (melamine tainted glutin was last years China food scare.)

    No wonder the gymnasts don’t look 16, growing up eating @#$% like this.

  4. Dandan Says:

    There have been complaints reported since March, and it took these long to get Sanlu fully exposed.
    I just hope the protectionism and corruption don’t get in the way of investigation.

  5. TonyP4 Says:

    The government has really, really do something. Otherwise, the US will BAN all food from China. It is not the first time, the second time, or the third time… When I go to a restaurant offering $10 for a great fish disk, I wonder whether the fish is from China. Reputation means everything to a consumer.

  6. NMBWhat Says:

    That’s ridiculous…

    Revolutions were fought for far less…

  7. Charles Liu Says:

    Just checked news.baidu, the story is headlined in hot search section:


    Teng Shin Financial News reports the contamination was known internally to Sanlu since early August.

    Some media reports point finger at the feed supplier rather than Sanlu’s milk supplier.

  8. Charles Liu Says:

    Nimrod, did you look into the mitbbs post implicating Baidu?

    First of all it’s not authenticated, next it’s not from Baidu, rather some advertising company 北京涛澜通略国际广告有限公司, and the company has since stated the memo being criculated is fake:


  9. Nimrod Says:

    Hi Charles,

    Thanks for the information. I am not drawing any conclusions at this point, especially about some of the side stories (I did put “alleged”). I guess the main point of the post was about people’s reaction, which is that people are very very angry and they may direct that anger at anybody who could possibly be a culprit or accomplice. Some people are indeed angry at Baidu for a different reason than whether the document is true or fake, which is whether it does filter results based on payment.

  10. Charles Liu Says:

    I’m not so certain about the “word on the street” on Baidu banning sites that don’t buy ads. Lower ranking maybe, but isn’t that the same as giving paying customer higher ranking (something Google makes billions on)?

    Here’s another test, besides looking for Sanlu on Baudu, I tried to find sohu news on baidu, guess what, they show up:


  11. Theo Says:

    Nowhere in this debate has the question been raised of why women are using artificial milk formulas at all. All the scientific evidence shows that ‘breast is best’ (no melamine there). But in developing countries consumers are persuaded/misled by intensive marketing that formulas are somehow better and more ‘modern’. If the Chinese government was serious about promoting the health of its citizen it would promote the WHO-recommended breastfeeding guidelines and ban the promotion of formulas altogether …

  12. pug_ster Says:


    As a dad of 2, I don’t think it is true. It takes alot of effort to pump milk, especially in today where women have to work at the same time they don’t have the convenience to do it. Also, alot of women can’t pump enough milk for their infants so they have to supplement with baby formula. Unfortunately, this happens to alot of asian women.

  13. EugeneZ Says:

    At the current stage of China’s development, both in terms of political and legal oversight / accoutability, and in terms of societal development, it would be very hard to produce consistently healthy baby formula. I am sure that a lot of people in the supply chain and sales channel have to be involved before it is delivered to the baby’s mouth.

    For those who can afford the imported babay formula, they should stick to it. For those who can not, they have limited options, this is just a way of life for many who are not as fortunate.

    It is a great business opportunity for foreign companies like produce quality infant formula.

    I hope to live to the day when China can produce a quality infant formula that our fellow citizens can consume withour fear. I am still hopeful – it all depends on progress and speed of the giant task of modernization in China, and how long I will live.

  14. Charles Liu Says:

    Theo, I bet the “breast feeding” topic is no doubt being revisited in China right now, in light of the Sanlu formula scare. I seem to remember similiar discussion in the states a while back.

    The consensus seems to be first weeks is most critical, when colostrum, anti-body is provided by the mother to the newborn.

  15. Old Tales Retold Says:

    It seems more and more that business accountability is as important—or nearly as important—as government accountability in China. I think Western journalists, who hoped that the middle class would bring political reform and therefore were soft on Chinese entrepreneurs, have been a bit slow on the ball, at least until recently.

  16. Michelle Says:

    @But in developing countries consumers are persuaded/misled by intensive marketing that formulas are somehow better and more ‘modern’.

    This happened in the US in the 50s/60s/70s – Tang (the orange drink) mentality – the more processed, the more modern, the better. They seem back to breastfeeding now…

    Anyhow, the main problem with this issue is oversight, both from the govt as well as and the media, ala Upton Sinclair. Of course, this opens another can of worms, pun intended…

  17. Michelle Says:

    Just a side note: For anyone who doesn’t / can’t read comments on chinese-language internet forums, here is a sampling: http://www.chinasmack.com/stories/kidney-stone-gate-fake-baby-milk-powder-sanlu-baidu/

    Don’t know much about the site and how they select comments, so not vouching for it… but it’s still interesting.

  18. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Isn’t the kid in the ad a little ripe to still be drinking baby formula? Looks like he’s got a full set of teeth…can’t tell if they’re crooked though 🙂

  19. Theo Says:

    pug-ster – how did Chinese mothers feed their infants before formula was invented? Don’t tell me they all had wet nurses like Pu Yi. I’m not saying breast feeding is easy. We raised two kids and my [Chinese] wife found it a struggle at first – yes with work etc. But the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. Milk formulas have become like fast food for the babies of ‘busy’ parents. It’s convenient. And I get the impression in China that breastfeeding is now seen as a backward, peasant habit. Attitudes will need to change if dependence on [tainted] formulas is to change.

  20. TommyBahamas Says:

    Yes, indeed, “the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction”

    Although I am glad to repport that a lot of mothers are still breast-feeding their infants — even in the cities of China. The reason I know this is because some of them still do it in public, more discreetly these days.
    In the old days, when I was a child, breast-feeding was very natural and totally shame-free. I think it is a beautiful, beautiful thing, and of course natural is best, not only for the baby, but the mother’s health as well. And is a very important factor in strong mother-child bond. BTW, how the hell did it become an UNcool
    thing? Damn it~!

  21. BMY Says:

    @pug_ster #12

    I agree with Theo. We had all survived with breast feeding before formulas got invented.

    It has been a fashion and culture in some extent in mainland China that using baby formula is cool.

    From my experience as a father of 2, the first few days after the birth is very difficult for mums to produce enough milk and babies are always hungry and crying. This is the stage many mums/dads give up because there are bottles around. Then after starting with bottles and baby stops sucking mum’s breast. Without the stimulates from baby’s sucking, mum’s breast just won’t produce milk which would push further towards bottle feeding.

    My wife is tiny, but we managed to breast feed our two little ones at least for few months before she went back to work. It was very hard in the beginning. But It’s absolutely worth the efforts.

  22. MutantJedi Says:

    Barring complications, breast feeding is best.
    As BMY says, stimulation from the baby helps with milk production. So does the baby’s fussing. Avoid the bottle. The baby will not starve.

    Also, avoid over stimulating. 🙂 With my first boy, my ex and I got into a nasty cycle. She was too worried about blockages so we would pump. Pumping stimulated more milk. She got more worried about blockages. So more pumping. Then she got to the point, with a freezer full of milk, where she was afraid of not pumping. Finally, I convinced her to get break the cycle and stop pumping. After things settled down, she was so much more comfortable.

    As for the “uncool” angle. I have no patience with anybody who would cast dispersions towards publicly breast feeding.

  23. Michelle Says:

    Never understood the stigma against breastfeeding in public. At least here in Beijing, my new mother friends can feel free to breastfeed anywhere, even in a taxi, no one cares. I think it’s a relief to those coming from more uptight and puritanical countries…

  24. pug_ster Says:

    @Theo #19, BMY #21

    Maybe some women managed to do it, but most don’t.


  25. Chops Says:

    2004 – Fake milk powder victims launches lawsuit, a total of 12 infants died of malnutrition after being fed substandard milk powder.

    Another 229 babies were found suffering nutritional deficiencies to different degrees, according to Xinhua News Agency.


  26. TommyBahamas Says:

    WAIT a baby crying minute, now who is telling the truth and who’s been paid by the milkpowder companies here.???

    (A) 9 out of 10 Chnese women can’t produce enough milk for new borns because of poor-slimming diets..????..


    (B)”In fact the majority of women should be able to satisfy the breast-feeding needs of their babies according to the ‘lactation stimulation reflex'” according to Wang Xiaoyi from the Love Baby (‘爱婴’) section of the Guangzhou Medical College Number Three Hospital. Wang also said that hospitals abroad are extremely careful about establishing the lactation reflex in post-natal women. After the child is born, the doctor immediately asks the mother to start breast feeding. After the lactation reflex has been formed, breast milk will become increasingly plentiful. It can also strengthen uterine contraction, and reduce postpartum hemorrhages.” ?????

  27. Chops Says:

    “The company that sold the contaminated milk powder, Sanlu Group Co., is 43 percent owned by New Zealand dairy farmers’ group Fonterra.

    Fonterra, the world’s biggest milk trader, said Sunday it had urged Sanlu to recall the product as early as six weeks ago, despite a full public recall only being initiated last week.

    New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Monday that she first learned about the issue on Sept. 5. Three days later she convened a meeting of senior ministers at which she ordered officials to leapfrog provincial officials in China and inform their superiors in Beijing.

    Sanlu ordered a recall Thursday.”


  28. Nimrod Says:

    Chops Says:

    “2004 – Fake milk powder victims launches lawsuit, a total of 12 infants died of malnutrition after being fed substandard milk powder.”

    In fact — if I understood correctly — it was after this faking incident that tests were instituted to test for the protein content in milk powder, and the result was this melamine thing…

    Tests and counter-measures can always go on and they will never end — just like athletic doping. But one would hope that there are other checks to prevent this sort of despicable things from happening — perhaps morals, perhaps laws. Whatever it is, not a few Chinese are despaired at the lack of those checks in China today. I won’t be the first to mention that it does feel like the anything goes 1920’s America, but hopefully better days lie ahead.

  29. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Michelle:
    “friends can feel free to breastfeed anywhere, even in a taxi” – your friends are either extremely flexible, or they’re not using infant car seats…and that would be a whole other discussion.

  30. S.K. Cheung Says:

    I definitely agree breast is best. The only time I draw the line is when the kid is old enough to run up to mommy and ask for it in a full sentence…then it’s just creepy.

  31. Chops Says:

    “Exposure to a ubiquitous chemical used in plastic baby bottles, food cans and a host of other products may increase the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, a study suggests.

    In the first major study of the possible health effects of bisphenol A (BPA), one of the world’s most heavily-produced substances, researchers found that even small traces in the body — less than 100 times the current recommended limits — were potentially linked to health problems.”


  32. gus\'s dad greg Says:

    charles, stfu. thank you all for offering up empty help as we search for a safe formula for our son. we apprecaited the name calling as we came across the site in search of hope. my boy is hungry and it has proven difficult to find word of something that is proven safe. in four short weeks he has truley become our world. my last friend who compared was my dog… she fell victim to complete kidney failure in a sad slow melamine induced death.


    breast feeding has been an overwhelming success for both my son and wife. unfortunately, even with state of the art pumps, we are unable to produce enough breast milk to carry the boy through the day, and maternity leave only lasts so long. gus likes bottles, too. please send help as to a safe thing to feed the young man.

    thank you,
    greg lane

  33. Darth Shoeclown Dark Lord Of Sith Says:

    I assume you are in Michigan? Buy Nestle or something?

    Buy American bud.

  34. Darth Shoeclown Dark Lord Of Sith Says:

    This formula thing is in China, not U.S.

  35. Darth Shoeclown Dark Lord Of Sith Says:

    China == Dark Empire of Sith.


  36. TommyBahamas Says:

    Yo, ya Capitalist clowns with your single-minded lust for power and disdain for sentient life, we, the Jade Warriors of the East and the Jedi Knights of the West are going to kick your ass. China is the ancient land of Philosopher Kings, we have zero tolerance for you warmongering, power-lust Sith. Try as you may to draw the negative and positive energy to boost you own needs, the Jade Warriors will forsake our emotional attachment and join together with the Jedi Knights to cast you out into oblivion for the collective good of the everlasting galaxy.

  37. admin Says:

    @Darth Shoeclown Dark Lord Of Sith

    aka NMBTroll…NMBWhat…RMBWhat…ChinkTalkTheNextGeneration…

    We don’t forbid multiple monikers per se, but to pretend you are different people talking with each other is not allowed. If you don’t have anything to contribute, please leave.

  38. Darth Shoeclown Dark Lord Of Sith Says:

    Really Admin. You can look at my IP. WOW.

  39. admin Says:

    Yes, I can also do an online chat with you. As I said, if you are here for a polite exchange of ideas, you are more than welcome to stay. But please don’t play tricks.

  40. RMBWhat Says:

    Sorry. I was just being an clown because I thought the other guy was trolling. Because if he was in the U.S then he shouldn’t have a problem, since this scandal is as of right a Chinese problem.

    And as for my multiple persona, well, I have a multiple persona troll disorder. I will stop. BUSTED. See, I could’ve spoofed my IP but …Sometimes I’m just trying to make a point. It’s not funny.

  41. Nimrod Says:

    This appears to be a lot more widespread than thought.

    China Milk Scandal Widens to 22 Firms, Boosting Safety Concerns

    The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine ordered the “immediate” destruction of 69 tainted products made by 22 of the 109 Chinese companies that make infant milk, it said in a statement on its Web site.

    Milk contaminated by melamine, which can make the protein level in dairy products appear higher than it is, has been linked to 1,253 cases of infant kidney stones in China, killing two. China’s biggest dairy producers, including China Mengniu Diary Co., Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group and Sanlu Group Co. were among companies linked to tainted milk, the regulator said.

    Sanlu may be right after all that it was a supplier problem (although it did try covering up for a few months at least, which is reprehensible). Now it’s not just infant formula, but liquid milk, yogurt, and ice cream, too. Oh boy.

  42. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Food safety is certainly on peoples’ radar now. China has the milk issue. Canada’s had listeria in meat and soft cheeses, and the US had issues with spinach last year and tomatoes this year. That’s going to throw people for a loop, if they can’t trust the food they’re feeding their families.

  43. BMY Says:


    you are right.

    chemicals are wildly been used in almost every farm and every supermarket food processing either in China, the US or Australia or any country. we won’t eat anything if we dig into. you just need have a look at the labels of the cake .yogurt in your local supermarket. and the massive hormone in any meat/dairy products

    There was a research report not long ago the the plastic baby bottles could cause cancel. All those bottles we can buy are made of plastic.

    But this is not to justify the Sanlu case.

  44. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To BMY:
    that’s why Canada has banned bisphenol A (the bad stuff in the baby bottles). Don’t know if Australia has done the same.

    That’s also probably why organic products are in vogue, and people speak of 100 mile diets (ie everything you eat is grown within 100 miles of where you live). On the other hand you have companies like Mosanto hawking genetically modified foods.

    I don’t think the food safety issue is a Chinese issue. I think it’s a global one. The scary thing is, for example, no one knew asbestos was bad for you until they discovered that asbestos was bad for you. So who knows if they’ll discover in 10 years that something we eat today actually kills? Oh well, if you don’t mind, could you pass the salt please 🙂

  45. gus's dad Says:

    aha… sure, it’s just in china. buy american he says. wait two months and call me in the morning. you really think that this won’t effect your star spangled children?

    oh, i get it, they were just after your pets. where’d you buy your dog food from?

    stand beside her, and guide her…

  46. pug_ster Says:

    I know people from China who buys baby formula from Hong Kong after the baby formula scare in 2004. I hope in the long run, I think this bad publicity will be good for China. Hopefully the Chinese government will set up/increase funding some kind of regulatory agency that will oversee food safety for its citizens. It will cost more, but China will start to have faith on its products…

  47. Daniel Says:

    Stories like this is disheartening and hopefully more work cna be done. It’s already been known for some time, but I wonder why is CNN putting it out as a top story today?
    Not the international site but the domestic one. Many Americans have plenty at home to worry about and if I recalled, this formula scandal is is domestic or could only be handle domestically.

  48. wuming Says:

    There is a dramatic change going on in China related to the melamine poisoning, the internet is becoming the social monitor. It suddenly becomes very difficult for the officials at various levels to get away with large scale corruptions or even mere incompetence. It is very likely another batch of provincial officials will fall. As tragic as this event is, something good may come out of it.

  49. S.K. Cheung Says:

    In the Canadian media today, it was reported that the company was aware of the melamine contamination in early August. I don’t know if that’s true. If it is, then why was the recall delayed by weeks? Many kids could have been exposed needlessly in that timeframe.

    I agree it’s a domestic issue. Hopefully Chinese citizens will find those responsible and hold them to account.

  50. Wukailong Says:

    @Wuming: “There is a dramatic change going on in China related to the melamine poisoning, the internet is becoming the social monitor.”

    That is interesting. People (especially in the West) used to be overtly optimistic about the effect the Internet would have on the Chinese government, and then turned to extreme pessimism when censorship seemed to be working so well. I think the openness of the Internet can’t be contained in the long round, but will make the world more open as a whole.

  51. snow Says:

    The contaminated milk powered scandal saddened everyone here and shocked the entire world indeed. A new wave of fear of and cautionary warning for China made products is brewing. “All the efforts that China put in a successful Olympics to rebuild her image are discounted by a single scandal,” a friend commented. I don’t agree.

    As appalling and condemnable as the scandal is, I suggest we see such thing in historical and global perspectives. To be precise, it is a greedy and lawless capitalist syndrome. Since China has joined the global capitalist free market, we can only expect more such scandals exposed. Here is a good article by Stephen Mihm, “A nation of outlaws: A century ago, that wasn’t China — it was us”

    Let’s hope, and it may well be, that some thing good will come out of this bad experience, not only that the government should implement more workable regulatory laws in food inspection, but also that the entire people and society should reflect on a tough issue faced to all developing countries: how can we achieve a belated modernity while avoid repeating pitfalls and diseases of unquenchable capitalist greed, which had significantly characterized the rise of West economic powers in the past and are still bringing havocs to the present periodically.

  52. GNZ Says:

    saying Chinese food will be safe in 100 years doesn’t make people happy to eat the food now.
    On the other hand I’m not one to panic – the risk of eating any particular Chinese made product is probably still less than the risk I face each day crossing the road.

  53. Nimrod Says:

    More news coming down the pike. This story continues to develop.

    – Hong Kong supermarkets ban liquid milk by Mengniu, makes recall of dairy products by Yili. Mengniu and Yili are two other major Chinese dairy companies
    – Singapore bans milk products from China
    – Starbucks in China bans milk from Mengniu

    Meanwhile, Mengniu makes apologies and promises (but no word on compensation), and some heads have rolled on Sanlu:

    Zhang Fawang, vice mayor in charge of agricultural production of Hebei provincial capital Shijiazhuang, and Sun Renhu, the city’s animal husbandry administration chief, were fired late Tuesday following legal procedures, according to a decision made by the city’s legislative body.

    Shijiazhuang Food and Drug Administration Bureau director ZhangYi and the city’s Quality and Technical Inspection Bureau chief LiZhiguo were also dismissed from their posts for loose supervision on the milk suppliers.

    Tian Wenhua, the board chairwoman and general manager of Shijiazhuang-based dairy giant Sanlu Group, was also fired from her posts. She was also removed from her post as the secretary of the corporation committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), according to Party authorities of Hebei Province an Shijiazhuang City.

  54. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Any talk of compensation?

  55. S.K. Cheung Says:

    This whole affair is obviously a tragedy for all the kids involved, and their families. The culprits should be subjected to legal tragedies at least of equivalent gravity. I don’t know the process of bringing milk products to market, and whether such contamination may be “accidental”. But if it involves an act of commission (rather than an act of omission/imperfect oversight), then the perpetrators need to lose a lot more than just their jobs.

  56. Nimrod Says:

    China’s dairy farmers fret as milk scandal grows

    It appears as if due to the Sanlu milk scandal, the small dairy farming industry is going to have to undergo drastic changes. I hope these farmers find a way to survive.

  57. Charles Liu Says:

    Here’s another follow-up:


  58. aroxic Says:

    This must be a western conspiracy, don’t believe it. Just continue drinking your chinese milk!

  59. Nimrod Says:

    It is frustrating that the source of the problem still has not been definitively identified. Somebody knows and needs to blow the whistle. Otherwise this will be like the financial market laced with toxic assets, where lack of confidence and fear make the entire system grind to a halt even though most of the items in the system are fine.

  60. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Whistleblower protection is probably another concept that the Chinese legal system needs to recognize.

  61. pug_ster Says:

    In the stock market, companies like Sanlu, Mengniu and Yili are already suffering, which is a good thing. Whereas companies like Sanyuan and Nestle who actually did their homework and made sure that melamine is not their products. As a result, their stocks are going up at the expense of those Melamine laced manufacturers. I think China’s reaction in the press to this crisis is positive and it is a warning to companies who do unethical business. Hopefully, I think what China does transcend to other industries.

  62. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Now I’m reading that up to 53000 kids may have been affected, or at least sought treatment, thus far. And one of the companies may have served milk at the Olympics. Furthermore, apparently Sanlu had been granted an exemption from government testing of products. So that explains the lousy government oversight…because government itself agreed that such oversight was unnecessary. It’d be interesting to listen to some schmuck justify that decision.

  63. Nimrod Says:

    I certainly won’t justify it, but the justification as I understand it was that Sanlu supposedly had thousands of safety checks in place (it was in the news at one point how safe its products were, and it was even a recommended brand), so it earned some kind of exemption.

    Industry self-regulation sometimes works, and small government types would applaud it, but for safety and public welfare, it is just too dangerous.

    Anyway, it isn’t clear that even without the exemption the outcome would have been much different in this case.

  64. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Well, we all have to learn from mistakes. So in the future, perhaps food safety is not an area where industry self-regulation is sufficient. I say this not only for China, but also for Canada, US, and world-wide, given some of the highly-publicized food safety concerns in all those jurisdictions in the last 2 years. In Canada at least, we have an entire Canadian Food Inspection Agency, but the problem is it is underfunded and understaffed. So a government agency not adequately funded to carry out its mandate is not much better than granting exemptions or industry self-regulation. What’s done is done; hopefully there will be adequate, transparent, and public accounting of the flaws of the current system; but more importantly, changes should be effected to prevent the “next time”. Of course, if I was the parent of one of those 53000 kids (and I’m sure there’ll be lots more), my response would not be so philosophical; I’d want somebody’s head on the end of a stick, preferably placed there with the help of a very dull knife.

  65. Charles Liu Says:

    Yes SK, self-regulation in this case failed the milk consumers in China. Another example is the investment banking melt-down in US where complex financial instruments were self-regulated.

    From the report I read, the schmucks from the QC bureau and local party secretary who granted the exemption to Sanlu resigned/fired.

  66. Wukailong Says:

    When the press is accused of bias, it often says it is self-regulating. I wonder if the concept is such a good idea at all…

  67. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Wukailong:
    agreed. Self-regulation seems like the ultimate form of conflict of interest. The whole point of a regulation is to force you to do something that you otherwise might not. There are bound to be problems when the enforcer and the enforcee are one and the same.

  68. RUMman Says:

    Surprised at how little mention there has been of NZ’s involvement.

    As a NZer I’m fairly disgusted with Fonterra. OK, now maybe it is not their fault exactly, but Fonterra could have moved to alert the Chinese authorities quicker (going over the heads of Sanlu if necessary), and the NZ government could have acted faster after Fonterra brought the matter to their attention. It seems like fear of causing a loss of face led the NZers to sit on their hands. Very disappointing that they let face trump public health.

    Obviously it’s a shame that what is presumably NZ’s biggest investment in China has blown up so spectacularly. Did Fonterra rush in without researching these guys? I did wonder why Fonterra went and bought a brand that (so far as I am aware anyway) had a relatively poor reputation locally.

    And what is this going to do to the image of ‘brand NZ’. One of the few things NZ has going for it is a reputation for clean and healthy produce.

    Finally. . . Besides this whole Sanlu scandal it’s disappointing that Fonterra has been pushing the dairy industry in northern China, contributing to water problems, desertification and so on. . . .Northern China is just lousy dairy country and insisting on producing milk there is a recipe for ecological disaster – as if China doesn’t have enough ecological problems already.

  69. Nimrod Says:


    Thanks for bringing up Fonterra. Sanlu actually didn’t have such a bad reputation locally (before this incident). It was a big brand, a reputable trademark, and won a bunch of (very ironic) awards on product quality, business leadership, and agro-economy development. That is why it was such a shock to the system when this latest incident happened.

    That said, the drive for profit and the low-cost business model of franchising out milk collection to individual farmers certainly contributed to this latest problem. Other dairy businesses that relied on their own farms could keep a stricter control on quality.

  70. Buru Says:

    The beginning was tragic.
    The ending was MARVELLOUS!

    There are times you just feel like being in a country where the twisted evildoers are executed without much ado.. 🙂
    I just hope the ubiquitous Chinese chewing-gums and jelly-os are safe..


  1. Imagethief : Melamine in Sanlu milk powder? Now that's a crisis!
  2. (translation) Soy Milk Demand Rise After Powder Milk Incident | Fool's Mountain: Blogging for China

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