apology, criticism, and more

August 6th, 2013

And the top headline on the front page of today’s The Beijing News is Fonterra’s apology, accompanied by a photo of Theo Spierings looking suitably contrite. Unfortunately today also brings news that another brand is affected by the contaminated whey protein – Abbott, whose website prominently features a notice announcing the recall of two batches.

The main article on page A04 is headlined:

恒天然:问题产品48小时内召回

Fonterra: Affected products recalled in 48 hours

It goes on to explain:

“我想对中国人民以及世界各地受到影响的人民,表示我们最诚挚的歉意。”史毕根斯保证,从发布会时间算起,“未来的48小时之内,相关的产品将会得到召回,我们将会100%确定所有产品都会得到控制。”

“I wish to express our most sincere apologies to the Chinese people and all the people of the world who have been affected.” Spiering promised that from the time of the press conference, “within the next 48 hours the affected products will have been effectively recalled, we will make 100% certain that all products will have been brought under control”

Oh dear, that 100% figure again…

But there’s a sentence that grabs the eye:

发布会上,史毕根斯透露,还有一家受到影响的乳品公司请求恒天然暂时不要曝光公司信息。

At the press conference, Spiering revealed there is one more affected dairy company that requested Fonterra to not reveal any information about it for the time being.

Now that’s a worry. There is more potentially contaminated product out there somewhere and we have no idea what it is.

This is also interesting:

对于外媒报道称,中国全面禁止从新西兰进口奶制品,昨日发布会上,史毕根斯表示,目前中国政府并没有对所有新西兰出口到中国的奶制品发布禁令,而只是限制了部分制品的进口,乳清蛋白粉和配方奶粉基粉就在限制之列。

Regarding foreign media reports of China imposing a complete ban on the import of New Zealand dairy products, Spiering said at yesterday’s media conference that currently the Chinese government has not banned the export of all New Zealand dairy products to China, but has only limited the import of some prodducts, and whey protein and base powder for infant formula are in this category.

Now there’s not much I like about our beloved prime minister, but sometimes John Key gets things right. His criticism is also reported in the Chinese press, including in a related news item lower down on page A04 of The Beijing News. Unfortunately, all TBN has to say about Key’s criticism is this:

昨日,新西兰总理约翰·基批评恒天然集团拖延曝光产品质量问题。

Yesterday New Zealand prime minister John Key criticised Fonterra’s delay in revealing its product quality issue.

And the rest of the article is given over to Spierings’ explanation of the delay. Compare with the NZ Herald:

He said the full extent of possible contamination was still unknown, and the information Fonterra was giving kept changing, making it clear more products were potentially affected than originally thought.

“Until we get that information, the situation remains fluid and we are unable to give New Zealanders or or trading partners absolute certainty.”

Back to The Beijing News, whose page A05 is headlined:

48小时召回?不可能完成!

Recall in 48 hours? Can’t be completely done!

The reporter contacted the affected companies who said it’s not possible to get all the recalled products back within 48 hours. Dumex said it didn’t know how much had been sold. It had 420.188 tons of affected formula on the market, but was waiting for vendors to inform them exactly how much of that had already been sold. Coca Cola’s recalled products were sold in Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan, but it too was waiting on statistics as to how much had been sold, thanks to the large number of vendors selling its product. However, because of the ultra heat treatment of the products and the weak acid inhibition function of the drinks, the products are safe. Wahaha said its affected products left the factory in October last year and had basically sold out.

This page also has a timeline of recent quality issues with Western milk powder:

April 2013: Over 8400 tons of milk powder from Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Korea [I think that’s the first time I’ve seen a non-Western country lumped in with 洋, hence my insistence on translating 洋 as “Western” rather than the more common “foreign”] had substandard levels of copper, vitamins B6 and B12, and choline.

January 2013: DCD found in some New Zealand milk and milk powder. And here it notes that Fonterra products were especially implicated.

September 2012: Fonterra finds DCD in some New Zealand milk and milk powder but does not inform the public. I think the January 2013 entry should’ve said “revealed” rather than “found”.

August 2012: Several Japanese [another I haven’t previously seen included in 洋] brands found to have insufficient iodine.

February – November 2012: A Suzhou import-export company was caught altering the batch numbers of its infant formula.

May 2011: Some of a South Korean dairy company’s products were found to contain formalin after it used polluted imported feed.

And then I came across this curious post on Weibo:

【担心奶粉安全 中国母亲兴起网上买母乳】据CNN,新西兰乳品生产商恒天然婴幼儿奶粉中被发现肉毒杆菌之后,更多奶水不足的新母亲开始寻求替代奶源,网上母乳 交易开始兴旺。很多母亲也乐意出售多余奶水赚外快。但专家警告,网上买卖母乳也并非没有风险,奶源可能被感染或含艾滋病毒等。

[Worried about the safety of milk powder, Chinese mothers are starting to buy breastmilk online] According to CNN, after botulinum was found in infant formula made by New Zealand dairy producer Fonterra, more new mothers who can’t express enough milk have begun to search for alternative milk sources and the online trade in breastmilk is booming. Many mothers are also happy to sell their excess milk for the extra income. But experts warn the online trade in breastmilk is not without risk, the milk could be infected or carry the AIDS virus.

It’s not the first time this year I’ve heard of a shadowy, but not quite underground, trade in breastmilk, but even so, it is a strange post to appear. And from CNN? China’s own media has failed to miss this story? Well, this would seem to be the original article. But something seems to have gotten a bit lost in translation:

On Saturday, New Zealand company Fonterra announced that a strain of bacteria that causes botulism had been found in batches of an ingredient used to make baby formula, as well as sports drinks.

Not Fonterra-produced infant formula, as Vista would have it. Also, the link between this scandal and the human breastmilk trade would seem rather tenuous:

After China’s tainted milk powder scandal in 2008, many new mothers who were unable to produce enough breast milk for their infant resorted to buying formula overseas — most notably in Hong Kong.

[…]

The restrictions have encouraged new mothers to find other means of sourcing milk to feed their babies.

“If I don’t have enough breast milk I would prefer to purchase human breast milk, because I don’t trust our milk powder,” explained Fang Lu, a newlywed who is planning to start a family.

So this has been going on for some time now, and CNN singularly fails to draw a link between this botulism scandal and the online breast milk trade.

But yes, this trade is “shadowy-but-not-quite-underground”:

In China, trading human breast milk online occupies a legal gray area. While the Ministry of Health Law Supervisor Department has declared that human breast milk cannot be a commodity, no laws regulate or explicitly prohibit its sale.

And then has an expert calling for regulation giving the obvious risks in the trade.

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