the myth is shattered

August 5th, 2013

What is the verb form of superstition? Xinhua Shidian posted this to Weibo:

【别迷信“洋食品”】新西兰恒天然集团宣布,在三批次浓缩乳清蛋白中检出肉毒杆菌。“洋奶粉”“百分百纯净” 的神话被打破。事实上,西方发达国家的食品安全问题还远不止这些。食品安全问题中外皆有,一味迷信“洋食品”并非明智之举。对待“洋货”与“国货”应本着 一视同仁的态度,理性客观看待。

[Don’t have blind faith in “Western food”] New Zealand’s Fonterra announced that botulinum had been found in three batches of whey protein. The “Western milk powder”, “100% pure” has been broken. In fact, Western developed countries are still far from putting an end to the food safety problem. Both China and the rest of the world have food safety problems, a blind faith in “Western food” is not wise. “Western goods” and “Chinese goods” should be treated equally, looked at rationally and objectively.

I won’t comment on the graphic, the characters are too small for me to read without a microscope. But that much seems fair, right? Well, the first comment I see, actually the latest comment posted when I opened that particular post, says:

朝廷的走狗你们黑够了吗? Forntera 是在出了问题产品还没有上架前就通报了全世界,总比大天朝出了问题不承认,把责任推到奶牛身上的好百倍!

The royal court’s [i.e. the government’s] running dog are you black enough? Fonterra notified the world before any of it’s affected products had hit the shelves, compared with the great Heavenly Kingdom not acknowledging problems, dumping the responsibility on the cow’s bodies, it’s a hundred times better!

朝廷/the royal court and 天朝/the Heavenly Kingdom are commonly used to refer to the government and China, but I always seem to see them in a sarcastic context. And “black” here represents badness – black is commonly used to refer to underground, illegal, underhanded, immoral people and activities.

And a bit further down:

要不要脸,用不着大声说“看,外国的食品也是有问题的!“饭里面有老鼠屎和老鼠屎里面有饭,这还是有区别的”,群众的眼睛是雪亮的。。

Want face or not, you don’t need to shout, “Look, foreign food products have problems too!” “Mouse shit in the rice and rice in the mouse shit, there’s a difference”, the eyes of the masses are as bright as snow..

And:

太监总说别人性功能不好

Eunuchs are always saying other people’s sexual functions aren’t good.

And there’s more. Of course, not all the comments are sarcastic or critical. Many are simply “retweets” (reweibos?), and some are supportive.

And there’s this post from People’s Net (People’s Daily online) with the title:

【38吨毒奶摧毁“洋神话”】

[38 tons of poisonous milk destroys the “Western myth”]

The post itself says that on hearing the news of Fonterra’s contaminated whey protein had entered China, consumers and the market were badly frightened, “like a bird that starts at the mere twang of a bow string“, and that trade minister Tim Groser had announced that China had stopped all imports of New Zealand and Australian milk powder. I would’ve thought People’s Daily could’ve found somebody to talk to the relevant authorities in Beijing about any ban on importing milk powder, but never mind… The comments are quite a mixture, for example:

崇洋媚外

Revere the Western and suck up to the foreign

Or:

好像特别开心的样子?

You seem very happy?

There are many Chinese who are quite put off by how so many of their compatriots put so much more faith in foreign, especially Western brands and goods. Of course, that 崇洋媚外 extends to many other fields, too, such as politics, culture, art, fashion…. But it’s quality and product safety at stake here. And of course, the cynicism of many Chinese towards the government and official media continues. But two comments on this thread stood out at me:

国内奶粉不能买,国外奶粉也不管买,小孩儿吃啥?吃母乳啊!关键是现在哪个女人会以牺牲自己的身材为代价喂母乳。。。

Domestic milk powder we can’t be, foreign milk powder you won’t let us buy, what are the children going to eat? Breastfeed them! The key is that which woman these days would sacrifice her figure as the price of breastfeeding…

And:

古代人民没有奶粉,不照样生活过来。奶粉的大肆推广,是因为他们有利可图。而且是暴利。有个笑话:一西方商人向长颈鹿推销防毒面具,长颈鹿说:这草原空气 很好,不需要。于是,那个商人就在草原建厂,废气有毒,污染了草原空气。于是,长颈鹿逼迫买该面具。更可笑的是,那个工厂就是生产防毒面具的。

Ancient peoples didn’t have milk powder, didn’t live that way. The massive popularisation of milk powder is because they can profit from it. And it’s enormous profit. There’s a joke: A Western businessman ried to sell a giraffe a gasmask. The giraffe said, “this grassland’s air is very good, I don’t need it.” So the businessman built a factory on the grassland and the waste gas was poisonous, polluting the grassland’s air. So the giraffe had to buy the mask. The funny thing is, that factory produced gasmasks.

Now, my wife and most other young mothers I know “sacrificed their figures” and breastfed. And although I’m sure for some women concerns about their figure are part of the decision to not breastfeed, but I think there’s a lot more behind China’s low breastfeeding rate. And that giraffe and gasmask story makes a very good point, although in the case of breastfeeding vs. infant formula the near constant barrage of highly manipulative infant formula ads, infant formula marketers “somehow” acquiring the contact details of pregnant women and other forms of corruption in the medical system play a much bigger role. I don’t see anybody out there pushing the “breast is best” message.

And the top headline on the front page of today’s The Beijing News:

420吨多美滋问题乳粉售出

420 tons of contaminated Dumex milk powder sold

Yes, I’m predicting this is going to be in the news for some time yet.

And over at the NZ Herald, Liam Dann makes some very good points and asks some very important questions:

Fonterra has now twice tried to launch its own infant formula brand in China, only to have its efforts ruined by food safety issues.

In 2008 it was as part of a joint venture with China’s Sanlu. At that time, criminal negligence in the Chinese supply chain cost the lives of infants. Now, this safety scare comes just as it has launched its own Anmum brand infant formula in the Chinese market.

While the cause of this problem is not malicious, and no babies we know of are sick, the problem this time belongs entirely to Fonterra.

[…]

What went wrong at an engineering level? And why did it take so long to investigate? Why so long to go public?

Even allowing for due process and getting all the ducks in line, why would you put out a press release at 12.06am on Saturday morning? That’s 8.06pm on Friday night in China, so not timed for them either. Surely Fonterra didn’t think it could skip the news cycle with this one?

And yes, I had been wondering about the timing issue, too…

But I must leave it at that for now. I’m sure, though, that there’ll be plenty more.

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