Monday, September 29, 2008

Melamine,China, the 2008 Olympics, and Transparency

Melamine: There's nothing wrong with the stuff. It's fine for making plastics, like Melmac. So, why is a substance that gave the world nearly-unbreakable, dishwasher-safe, tableware making the headlines?

Melamine: Great for Melmac, Not So Good for Babies

Raw melamine isn't good to eat. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. And it's gotten into the global food supply.

The good news: Only Four babies in China have died from melamine poisoning so far.

The bad news: About 54,000 children have developed kidney stones or some other problem, because their baby formula was spiked with melamine.

More bad news: China has been exporting melamine-spiked food to countries around the world.

So far, it looks like about a dozen companies in China decided to substitute melamine for the more expensive proteins that humans can digest.

How to Boost Profits and Destroy Your Company

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time: protein tests for food register melamine as a protein, so an ethically-challenged executive might figure that passing inspections with a cheap protein substitute made sense. Besides, he wouldn't be the one trying to pass kidney stones.

The problem with getting around quality testing is that, sooner or later, something happens. In this case, babies started dying.

People notice that sort of thing. And, don't like it.

Sanlu, one of the Chinese companies with a creative approach to product standards, may not be around much longer. An executive with one of Sanlu's business partners in New Zealand said, " 'Sanlu has been damaged very badly by this tragedy. The [Sanlu] brand cannot be reconstructed.' And added he 'can't see clearly at this point' whether Sanlu group 'will stay intact.' "

Better Ideas from China: Poisoned Baby Food

Dishonest companies in America have tried using melamine to reduce costs, but it took China to make the dodge a global crisis.

I've read that two brothers who put China in the poison baby food business are facing the death penalty now. That may be a bit harsh, but I can understand the Chinese government's position.

China hasn't been having a good time with its exports lately:
  • Factory-infected consumer electronics
  • Toxic toys
  • Dubious toothpaste and food
  • Downright poisonous cough syrup
(I've written about this before: "The War on Terror? This May be The War For Freedom" (March 18, 2008), "China: Toxic Toys and Dubious Dumplings Aren't Signs of Terrorism" (January 30, 2008).)

The melamine mess involves 22 Chinese companies so far, including the dozen that were actually poisoning the food supply. This look more like a system-wide problem, than a matter of a few nitwits in executive positions.

This Isn't Mao's China

China is getting involved with the world's economy in ways that it hasn't, since Mao took over and started building an eastern workers' paradise.

I think that part of the reason that China's embarrassing tendency to poison its customers is that they're not used to dealing with people who can't be arrested for complaining.

The 2008 Olympics probably didn't help. Time magazine quoted "some critics" say it was all the attention that the games focused on China that forced an investigation ("Brief History of Melamine" (September 17, 2008)).

I also read that New Zealand was getting peeved about China's disinterest in checking out complaints of poisoned food, so the explanation's probably a bit more complicated than that.

My guess is that China's leaders really do want to make China an economic leader in the world, but don't quite know how.

And, they're not yet used to dealing with a world in which the news isn't controlled by their government, and where complaints about poisoned baby food can't be ignored away.

"Transparency," letting people know what a government or other organization is doing, isn't easy to accept. It can be embarrassing, and opens the door to Monday-morning quarterbacks and self-appointed experts. But it's also a good way to make sure that small problems get handled while they're still small.

In the news and reports:
  • "UPDATE 2-Cadbury withdraws China chocolate on melamine concern"
    Reuters (September 29, 2008)
    • "(Repeats to correct typographical error in headline) (Rewrites with Cadbury statement, comments and shares)
    • "HONG KONG/LONDON, Sept 29 (Reuters) - British confectionery group Cadbury Plc (CBRY.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) said on Monday it was withdrawing all of its 11 chocolate products made in Beijing on concern over the possibility of contamination with melamine in its Chinese plant.
    • "The London-based group said its products, including Dairy Milk chocolate, were being recalled from mainland China and the export markets of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia as a precautionary step pending further supply of fresh product.
    • "A growing list of Chinese milk and milk-related products have been taken off shelves around the world in recent weeks after it came to light that some milk had been contaminated with melamine which led to thousands affected and four deaths...."
  • "New Zealand dairy finds melamine in export product"
    International Herald Tribune (September 29, 2008)
    • "WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A New Zealand dairy company on Monday suspended exports of a product used mainly in baby milk formula after tests found it was contaminated with low levels of the industrial chemical melamine.
    • "The Tatua Cooperative Dairy Co. stopped exports of the dairy protein lactoferrin after tests showed it contained four parts per million of melamine, Tatua chief executive Paul McGilvary said.
    • "Infant milk products in China that have been blamed for killing at least four children and leaving tens of thousands of others sickened had melamine levels of about 2,500 parts per million, he said...."
  • "Melamine scandal hits candy makers"
    CNN (September 29, 2008)
    • "HONG KONG, China (AP) -- British chocolate maker Cadbury on Monday became the latest foreign company to be hit by China's tainted milk scandal, ordering a recall of its Chinese-made products after saying tests "cast doubt" on their safety.
    • "Two U.S. food makers were meanwhile investigating Indonesian claims that high traces of the industrial chemical melamine had been found in Chinese-made Oreos, M&Ms and Snickers, but stressed the same goods had tested negative in other Asian countries.
    • "They said they were looking into all possibilities, including counterfeiting.
    • "The milk scandal erupted earlier this month when China's public learned that melamine, which is used to make plastics and fertilizer, had been found in milk powder and was linked to kidney stones in children. Contamination has since turned up in liquid milk, yogurt and other products made with milk.
    • "Four deaths have been blamed on the bad milk and some 54,000 children have developed kidney stones or other illnesses after drinking tainted baby formula...."
  • "Indonesia says melamine found in 12 China food products"
    Reuters (September 28, 2008)
    • " JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's health ministry said melamine had been detected in 12 food items from China, including cookies, candies and drinks, as the fall-out from China's tainted-milk scandal spread to Southeast Asia's biggest economy.
    • "Indonesia's Food and Drug Monitoring Agency found that 12 out of 19 Chinese milk products on sale in the country tested positive for melamine, the health ministry said in a statement posted on its website ( [!]...."
  • "WHO says mother’s milk best for infant health"
    Viet Nam News (September 27, 2008)
    • "HA NOI — Breast-feeding infants is an effective way to prevent them from being exposed to unsafe foods, said Dr Jean-Marc Olive, World Health Organisation Representative to Viet Nam, yesterday.
    • "At a press briefing held by the WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) in response to the contaminated milk scandal in China, Olive said the scandal highlighted the need to breast-feed infants for at least six months to help enhance growth and brain development...."
  • "FDA Updates Health Information Advisory on Melamine Contamination "
    Food and Drug Administration (United States) (September 26, 2008)
    • "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is alerting consumers that seven Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea products are being recalled by the Taiwanese company, King Car Food Industrial Co. Ltd., due to possible contamination with melamine. King Car Food Industrial Co. used a non-dairy creamer manufactured by Shandong Duqing Inc., China, which was found to be contaminated with melamine. The recalled products are:
      • Mr. Brown Mandheling Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
      • Mr. Brown Arabica Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
      • Mr. Brown Blue Mountain Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
      • Mr. Brown Caramel Macchiato Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
      • Brown French Vanilla Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
      • Mr. Brown Mandhling Blend instant Coffee (2-in-1)
      • Mr. Brown Milk Tea (3-in-1)
      "The FDA recommends that consumers not consume any of the above Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea products. The FDA also recommends that retailers and foodservice operators remove the products from sale or service.
    • "As of September 25, 2008, the FDA testing of milk based products imported into the United States from China has not found melamine contamination...."
  • "EU bans baby food with Chinese milk"
    CNN (September 25, 2008)
    • "(CNN) -- The European Union announced a ban on imports of baby food containing Chinese milk Thursday, after tainted dairy products linked to the deaths of four babies turned up in candy and other Chinese-made goods that were quickly pulled from stores worldwide...."
  • "Macau tests finds Chinese cookies tainted with melamine"
    GMANews (September 25, 2008)
    • "HONG KONG – The Macau government says its tests have found excessive amounts of the industrial chemical melamine in Chinese-made chocolate-filled cookies...."
  • "China's Sanlu Milk May Not Survive 'Tainted Milk' Controversy"
    AHN (September 24, 2008)
    • "Wellington, New Zealand (AHN) - The New Zealand partner of Chinese Sanlu milk brand, the company at the center of China's industrial chemical melamine-contaminated baby milk formula scandal, said the brand will not recover from its current problems...."
  • "FDA Updates Health Information Advisory on Melamine Contamination "
    Food and Drug Administration (September 23, 2008)
    • "On September 12, 2008, in light of reports from China of melamine contaminated infant formula, the FDA issued a Health Information Advisory to proactively reassure the American public that there is no known threat of contamination in infant formula manufactured by companies that have met the requirements to sell such products in the United States. That advisory also warned members of Chinese communities in the United States that infant formula manufactured in China, possibly available for purchase at Asian markets, could pose a risk to infants...."
  • "Third African country bans China milk powder brands"
    AFP (September 21, 2008)
    • "BUJUMBURA (AFP) — Burundi became the third African nation to ban Chinese milk products, after tainted milk from the country killed four babies in China and made thousands of others ill, the government said Sunday...."
  • "Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response (EPR) - Melamine-contaminated powdered infant formula in China"
    World Health Organization (September 18, 2008)
    • "18 September 2008 -- Over 6240 cases of kidney stones in infants with three deaths have been reported from across China as of 17 September. Kidney stones in infants are very rare.
    • "The Ministry of Health of China has confirmed that these cases are related to melamine-contaminated powdered infant formula consumed by the infants. While the exact onset date of illness resulting from contamination is unknown, a manufacturer received a complaint of illness in March 2008.
    • "Following inspections conducted by China’s national inspection agency, at least 22 dairy manufacturers across the country were found to have melamine in some of their products (levels varied between 0.09mg/kg and 2.560 mg/kg). Two companies exported their products to Bangladesh, Burundi, Myanmar, Gabon and Yemen. While contamination in those exported products remains unconfirmed, a recall has been ordered from China. ...
  • "Brief History of Melamine"
    Time (September 17, 2008)
    • "Melamine, the cheap compound used to bulk up baby formula in China that has sickened at least 1,200 babies across the country and killed at least two so far, once had a much less dubious purpose and, in fact, can be found in some form in most American homes...."
  • "Filler in Animal Feed Is Open Secret in China "
    The New York Times (April 30, 2007)
    • "ZHANGQIU, China, April 28 — As American food safety regulators head to China to investigate how a chemical made from coal found its way into pet food that killed dogs and cats in the United States, workers in this heavily polluted northern city openly admit that the substance is routinely added to animal feed as a fake protein...."
  • "Melamine in pet food may not be accidental"
    USA Today (April 20, 2008)
    • "A nitrogen-rich chemical used to make plastic and sometimes as a fertilizer may have been deliberately added to an ingredient in pet food that has sickened and killed cats and dogs across the country, public and private officials say. A leading theory is that it was added to fake higher protein levels...."


Anonymous said...

well chinese did some blunders in the olympics

Brian H. Gill said...

Internet Marketing,

Okay. I'm not sure how this applies to this post or the latest Chinese export snafu, though.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.