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.

silence is not golden

August 4th, 2013

“中国企业别沉默” – “Chinese enterprises don’t stay silent. So says Jinghua Shibao. But it’s not only Chinese companies that are keeping silent:

2日,恒天然集团向8家客户通报了情况,但拒绝提供8家企业和相关产品名称,拒绝说明“受污”产品销往哪些国家和地区。

On August 2, Fonterra Group informed its eight customers of the situation, but refused to supply the names of those 8 enterprises or the relevant products and refused to explain which countries and regions the contaminated products were sold to.

I note the word “refused” in there. I also note that the reasons for Fonterra’s refusal are not reported.

It then notes that although AQSIQ had demanded a recall of the affected products, Chinese enterprises were still keeping their lips sealed. And then:

这种沉默让人不放心。中国是新西兰奶粉的主要进口国之一,而恒天然一家就占新西兰市场份额的90%。中国企业与恒天然受污产品无关的可能性有多大?

This kind of silence leaves people unsettled. China is a major importer of New Zealand milk powder, and Fonterra has a 90% share of the New Zealand market. What are the chances that Chinese enterprises have nothing to do with Fonterra’s contaminated products?

Indeed. It then points out that AQSIQ’s actions made it clear this wasn’t some minor issue, but even more, the fact that Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings was flying from Europe to China made it clear that something was up.

So why are Chinese enterprises silent on the issue? It gives two reasons. The first is that they might really have nothing to do with this issue, they might really have not bought any of the contaminated whey protein. But:

…从安抚消费者的角度讲,公布一下又何妨?说明情况,更有助于重建市场信任。

…from the point of view of comforting consumers, what’s to stop them announcing it? Explaining the situation is more helpful for rebuilding market confidence.

And the second is that they still might not have gotten used to immediately satisfying the consumers’ right to know. And:

如果国内质量检验标准没有对此次受污产品的相应规定,保持沉默就更可以理直气壮。

If domestic quality inspection standards don’t have any regulations relevant to this contamination incident, they can have even more confidence in maintaining their silence.

Then a paragraph starting:

有消费者感叹:国内企业不可靠,国外企业也不可靠。

Some consumers sigh: Domestic companies are untrustworthy, foreign companies are also untrustworthy.

Oh dear. But it goes on to suggest that a major problem here is the length of the production chain, which has so many uncontrollable elements and so many things that could go wrong.

面对总会出现的质量威胁,要让消费者觉得产品可靠,出了问题迅速公布是重要一环。

In the face of constantly appearing threats to safety, quickly announcing problems when they occurs is an important element in  letting consumers feel a product is reliable.

And then this:

说不该沉默,不是苛求国内企业,而是因为中国奶粉业始终没有从一系列丑闻中真正赎回名誉。恢复公信力的重要前提,是越在可能出现危机的时候越表现出坦诚。

It isn’t too demanding of Chinese companies to say they shouldn’t be silent, rather it’s because the Chinese milk powder industry hasn’t really redeemed it’s reputation from a series of scandals. An important precondition of restoring public trust is to display more candor at times when crises are more likely.

Yes, I found that a bit garbled, too, especially the first sentence. But the point is clear enough. Nobody trusts the Chinese dairy industries because of the long series of scandals, and winning people’s trust back means they’ll have to learn to openly inform consumers.

So, now we know, thanks to AQSIQ, which companies in China received the contaminated whey protein. Dumex has announced which products it is recalling, but so far it seems Wahaha and Shanghai Tangjiu are remaining silent. Can we trust their products? Not without any information, we can’t.

Also in Jinghua Shibao is this article, which I haven’t bothered to read, but which includes a timeline reminding readers of Fonterra’s connection to the Sanlu melamine scandal of 2008 and the DCD scandal of earlier this year. So Fonterra, too, has a bit of work to do to win people’s trust back.

movement

August 4th, 2013

And thanks to The Beijing News’ Weibo account, here’s AQSIQ’s press release naming the four companies in China that imported Fonterra’s botulinum-contaminated whey protein. They are:

  • Hangzhou Wahaha Health Food Co. Ltd and Hangzhou Wahaha Import-Export Co. Ltd (I had a bit of trouble finding official English names, but Wahaha Group is here), who together imported 14.475 tons of whey protein.
  • Shanghai Tangjiu (Group) Co. Ltd, who imported 4.8 tons.
  • Dumex, which doesn’t seem to have an English page, who imported 208.55 tons

So, three Chinese companies, two of which are part of the same group, and a multi-national of Southeast Asian origin now apparently owned by Danone (and that is a really pathetic Wikipedia article), a French company that had a joint venture with Wahaha. Not that any of that is relevant, I was just amused by the coincidence.

The AQSIQ release also says:

上述进口企业已对涉及的问题产品采取追溯、召回等措施。

The above importing companies have already taken measures to trace and recall the affected products.

Well, I’ve already seen an official notice from Dumex posted to Weibo stating which products are recalled, but I can’t see any similar notice on the Shanghai Tangjiu or Wahaha sites. So I guess for the time being we should avoid Wahaha and Shanghai Tangjiu dairy products and sports drinks and anything else that may contain the contaminated whey protein.

And now I see Russia has banned all Fonterra products. Now that’s quite a spectacular overreaction.

 

So I opened Baidu News about 7:30 this morning, and this is what I see:

百度新闻搜索——全球最大的中文新闻平台 - Mozilla Firefox 201384 73855.bmp

See the top headline? “Bacteria found in milk powder from New Zealand’s Fonterra. Some has entered China.” But actually, the first word in Chinese is New Zealand. Clicking through, we get the People’s Daily article with a rather different headline:

质检总局要求立即召回恒天然受污乳粉 系中国70%进口奶源

AQSIQ demands recall of contaminated Fonterra milk powder. Accounts for 70% of imported milk.

Ok, for the dodgy translation file: I’m not sure what to do with the 系 here. The dictionary doesn’t provide any help. “Accounts for” will do, that’s more or less what the sentence says. And 奶源 – milk origin? milk source? Raw milk is about the closest English term I can think of, but raw milk isn’t the issue here. But moving on…

So People’s Daily doesn’t actually have “New Zealand” in the headline, but suddenly it’s gone from 3 unnamed Fonterra customers to 70% of China’s imported milk. But this article is sourced from The Beijing News. I can’t see it on the front page of their website, but it is at the top of the newspaper’s front page. The headline is nearly identical, the difference being that “AQSIQ” is in pale grey characters in seal-like square and the 70% claim is a much more clearly worded sub-heading:

中国70%进口奶源来自恒天然

70% of China’s imported milk comes from Fonterra

奶源 again… The other sub-heading is:

新西兰恒天然乳粉现毒菌,食用或中毒

Bacteria found in milk powder from New Zealand’s Fonterra, ingestion could cause poisoning

So there we go, New Zealand, Fonterra, contaminated milk, in big, bold, front page coverage.

Fortunately the New Zealand Herald is on to it, with two near-identical articles co-authored by Christopher Adams, one with Matthew Theunissen, t’other with Nick Perry. And the reference to Weibo suggests they have somebody who can read Chinese there, and if so, then good, because what China publishes in English is for foreign consumption, what it publishes in Chinese is for the domestic audience – there’s a very big difference. And what is being said on Weibo may well help the government, MPI and Fonterra realise just how serious a problem this is. Now what I’m seeing on Weibo is mostly posts and reposts of the news, not much commentary or reaction. But how’s this? Complete with two angry emoticons:

一直担心的事情终于还是发生了!今早刷微博看到@多美滋1000日计划 二阶有问题!@恒天然中国 召回二阶!我想问,特么二阶都喝过了,你们还召回么?[怒]我女儿都喝到3了,整个二阶都被你们腐蚀过了,这种情况你们召回么?负责么?还想问你们,还有没有其他阶段还有问题却没有暴露的?给个痛快好么?[怒]

The thing I’ve been worrying about has finally happened! This morning a looked at Weibo and saw @Dumex 1000 day plan Stage 2 has a problem! @Fonterra China recalled Stage 2! I want to ask, we’ve already drunk all the Dumex Stage 2, and you’re still going to recall it? [怒]. My daughter has drunk up to 3, all of Stage 2 has been ruined by you, and in this situation you recall? Take responsibility? I still want to ask you, are there any other stages that have a problem but still haven’t been revealed? Make me happy, alright? [怒]

And notice the attached photos, which include the official recall notice from Dumex as well as labels of Dumex cans. Now, I think she’s overreacting and has nothing to worry about – the numbers I see on the labels don’t match those in the recall notice. But when it’s the health and safety of one’s own child at stake, one does tend to get a bit emotional. So an understandable overreaction.

And of course, this constitutes good news for some. That account belongs to somebody claiming to work in Brussels who sells Belgian infant formula on Taobao. Check out this post:

#新西兰奶粉#不 是第一次出事了,近几个月来就好几起,上次是氰化物超标,这次是肉毒杆菌。上网搜搜舆论,很有意思,新西兰代购纷纷出来辟谣:奶粉上哪个批次哪个批次出问 题,其他不要紧。结论下太早了吧。还有人说"全世界最可靠的新西兰奶粉都出问题了,还咋办啊?",怎么新西兰就全世界最可靠了?

#New Zealand milk powder. This is not the first time a problem has occurred, there’ve been several incidents in the last few months. Last time it was excess cyanide, this time it’s botulinum. Get online and look through the discussions, it’s very interesting, New Zealand buyers are coming out one after the other to deny the rumours: which and which batches of milk powder are affected, the others you don’t need to worry about. They’ve drawn their conclusions too quickly. And other people say, “The world’s most trustworthy New Zealand milk powder has a problem, what can we do?”, how is New Zealand the world’s most trustworthy?

Cyanide now! Wow! I certainly read about excess nitrites, but cyanide! Well, I guess scaring people away from New Zealand will be good for this person’s business. And from this reply to a post on the topic from an account belonging to somebody who sells New Zealand produce on Taobao:

目前全球只有#欧盟奶粉#没出事情了,#欧盟标准全球最严格#,我在#欧盟总部比利时首都布鲁塞尔#,值得相信

Up till now in all the world only #EU milk powder# hasn’t had any incidents, #EU standards ar the strictest in the world#, I’m in #EU headquarters Brussels, Belgium#, worth believing

Worth believing, indeed. Last I heard, Fonterra also supplies to many European brands.

And something a touch more reasonable from the Changsha Evening Post:

新西兰乳品受污中国企业别沉默!对消费者真诚,是最好的公关。

New Zealand dairy products have been contaminated, Chinese companies don’t stay silent! Being sincere to the consumers is the best public relations.

Indeed. It seems Dumex has informed its customers that some of its products are affected, so we’re now up to two of the affected Fonterra customers, but who are the other six?

Now back to that TBN report: There’s no new information in there. The first part reads very similar to yesterday’s Mirror article, the rest like a translation of what’s in AP or the NZ press. But there’s the problem. 6 of the 8 affected customers, including 3 in China, remain unnamed. Add in this 70% figure. So long as the affected Fonterra customers remain unnamed and so long as we don’t know which particular products may have been contaminated, doubt is going to be cast on all made in New Zealand dairy products. I’d be willing to bet if I pop round to any random supermarket and watch the infant formula shelves I’ll see people pick up a can, see “made in New Zealand”, think “hmmm, yummy yummy botulism” and put it back down.

 

Fonterra botulism

August 3rd, 2013

A little comparison. Here’s an article a friend emailed me this morning. It doesn’t have a lot of information, but enough to know there’s more bad news coming. For example:

Fonterra is still refusing to disclose which of its eight customers were potentially affected by the contamination, saying it was up to them and their regulatory authorities to make those decisions.

Managing director of New Zealand milk products Gary Romano said the contamination occurred as a result of a dirty pipe at Fonterra’s Hautapu plant in Waikato.

“[After the contamination was detected] we went back immediately and isolated a very little used piece of pipework that was not as sanitary as it should be,” he said.

And note that seems to have been written by NZ Herald staff.

Then in the Herald I find this AP piece. It does that usual lazy journalism thing of tacking a bunch of random semi-relevant factoids at the end, but notice how much more information it contains. For example:

New Zealand authorities have triggered a global recall of up to 1,000 tons of dairy products across seven countries after dairy giant Fonterra announced tests had turned up a type of bacteria that could cause botulism.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries said Saturday that the tainted products include infant formula, sports drinks, protein drinks and other beverages. It said countries affected beside New Zealand include China, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.

[…]

New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries said Saturday that New Zealand company Nutricia had used some of the tainted product in its Karicare line of formula for infants aged over 6 months. Nutricia had locked down all five batches of infant formula it believed contained the tainted product, the ministry said. But it advised that parents should buy different Nutricia products or alternative brands until it verified the location of all tainted Nutricia products.

China’s product quality watchdog issued a statement urging importers of Fonterra dairy products to immediately start recalling the products.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine also told quality agencies around China to step up inspections of milk products from New Zealand.

Romano said the problem was caused by unsterilized pipes at a Waikato factory. He said three batches of whey protein weighing about 42 tons were tainted in May 2012, adding that Fonterra has since cleaned the pipes.

Vague information refusing to reveal anything about who or what was affected vs. naming affected countries. Very little about what various agencies are doing vs. specific mention of AQSIQ, recalls, and stepped-up inspections. “…not as sanitary as it should be” vs. “unsterlised pipes”. Refusal to name any Fonterra customer vs. Nutricia advising its customers what to do – and it seems to me like a very good response by Nutricia. Now, I don’t expect the NZ Herald to have the kind of global resources AP enjoys, but surely they could’ve wheedled a bit more information out of Fonterra and noticed what a NZ company making a brand as big as Karicare was doing?Update: Christopher Adams is on to it:

The affected product is Nutricia Karicare follow-on formula for children from 6 months old, the ministry said.

“Nutricia has advised that three of those [five] batches are in a warehouse in Auckland, one is on a ship, and the other is in storage in Australia,” said the ministry’s acting director general, Scott Gallacher. “Nutricia has advised it has locked down those batches, and they will not be sold on the market … MPI is still in the process of verifying this information, and today sent a team to Nutricia’s Auckland warehouses.”

Gallacher said that until the verification process was completed, parents should use Karicare formula for children 0-6 months or an alternative brand.

This morning I searched Baidu News for 恒天然 (Héngtiānrán, Fonterra’s Chinese name) and saw nothing relevant. I had another look a few minutes ago, and wow, what a difference half a day makes. Seven of the eight top results are this botulism contamination incident. I’ll run with the first article, on Netease, which is sourced from a paper whose English name is The Mirror. Clicking through to The Mirror‘s website, I notice this article is top of the page. Here’s what leaps out at me:

  1. The Mirror contacted the New Zealand embassy for comment. Not much comment was provided, because it’s a weekend, so more information needs to be gathered, but the comment I found to be constructive.
  2. AQSIQ also contacted the New Zealand embassy requiring action from New Zealand to sort this problem out.
  3. Three of Fonterra’s Chinese customers have received contaminated product, but it doesn’t name which three. Still, AQSIQ has required them to immediately recall the contaminated products.

I note Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings is on his way to China. I hope that suggests Fonterra has learned from the DCD scandal earlier this year. It will be interesting to see how this story unfolds.

Update: Just grabbed a dead tree copy of The Mirror from my local newsagent:

IMAG0998

Yeah, I know, it’s a crap photo. But see that headline at the top? Blue rectangular background with big white characters? The vertical orange triangle with white characters at the left end says “新西兰” – New Zealand. The headline proper says “Botulinum found in milk powder”. I really hope Fonterra has learned its lessons.

and meat, too

August 2nd, 2013

I was first told some months ago to look into New Zealand meat exports to China as well as just dairy. And I have to admit that everytime I see a restaurant listing New Zealand lamb on its menu I do wonder, “Really?” Even more so when they’re advertising it. But it’s been one of those years when it seems as soon as I think I’ve got time and space, something more urgent comes up and drags me off elsewhere, and in any case, I’m not sure where to start looking.

But this Skykiwi post to Weibo grabbed my attention, especially with its

【对中国了解不足】

[Don’t understand China well enough]

So I followed the link to the fuller article on Skykiwi, headlined:

肉类风波折射对中国了解不足 MPI将加强人手培训

Meat tempest reflects lack of understanding of China. MPI to strengthen staff training

Trouble is, it references a TVNZ report, and both the Weibo post and the article include what would seem to be a screen grab of a graphic from a One News report, but for some reason I can’t persuade the TVNZ website to open. But this short APNZ piece at the Herald would seem to be relevant.

It’s about an MPI report into how two shipments of New Zealand meat were held up at port in China over problems with the paperwork. That One News graphic is interesting, listing:

  • Failure to give adequate notice
  • Own officials were confused
  • Too “optimistic” problem could be solved
  • Failed to advise bosses and Ministers

Now I’m trying and failing to find an article I’m sure I read this morning, or perhaps yesterday, reporting Labour politicians getting stuck into Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy over this issue. I recall it having some interesting statistics on the number of redundancies at the MPI this year and how many vacancies MPI still has. If we go back to that APNZ piece linked above, we can see what I’m looking for here:

The Labour Party is calling on the Government to boost resources at the industry after a review that found systematic failings left millions of dollars worth of New Zealand beef and lamb sitting on Chinese docks for weeks.

Labour’s primary industries spokesman Damien O’Connor said there had been 90 redundancies at the ministry since January last year and there are 48 vacancies in the compliance area.

Except I’m sure I read an article going into more detail on this.

Anyway, it would seem there’s a lot of work to be done sorting out MPI to give our exporters a decent shot of actually getting their products into China.

And then there’s this:

Gallacher承认,MPI对中国的认识有所不足。过去5年,新西兰对华贸易额大幅增加。对新西兰而言,中国市场的规模和重要性都在增加。“但这也是 一个我们亟需了解的市场。”Gallacher说,这次检讨发现,MPI需要进一步加强与中方合作。同时,也需要改善内部资源、文化、系统和流程,避免类 似的问题再次发生。

It would be nice to see how TVNZ reported it in English, but oh well, here goes:

Gallacher acknowledged MPI didn’t know China well enough. In the past 5 years New Zealand’s trade with China had increased considerably. For New Zealand, both the scale and importance of the China market were growing. “But this is a market we urgently need to understand.” Gallacher said this inquiry showed MPI needs to further strengthen its cooperation with China. It also needs to improve its internal resources, culture, systems and processes to avoid similar problems occuring again.

And that is a refreshing bit of honesty. Now let’s just hope somebody manages to persuade the government that one can cut budgets too far, that the bureaucracy needs resources in order to function properly, and that much as we may all love to loathe bureaucrats and bureaucracy, when properly resourced, the bureaucracy makes a very real, very valuable contribution to the economy. This issue of New Zealand meat exports to China would seem to be a very good example of how.

 

yet again

August 1st, 2013

Right, now that I have a functioning internet connection again, here’s what I wrote yesterday afternoon, although having to save most of it in another format did a few funny things with the formatting. Anyways, here it is:

Note: Updated below. It has been brought to my attention that comments in the article about Péizhī’s address are a bit overwrought, to say the least. I’ve also strengthened a bit of commentary on the tone of that article. See below.

Come on, New Zealand, when the Herad’s Christopher Adams writes:

New Zealand’s lucrative reputation for high-quality dairy produce continues to get a battering from the Chinese media, despite efforts by this country’s government to reassure consumers in the world’s second-biggest economy that Kiwi milk products are safe.

He’s not making stuff up. It’s not just coming out of thin air or the product of a fevered imagination. Although relying on China Daily doesn’t really cut it. That rag is published in English for a non-Chinese audience, really little more than a public diplomacy effort, just trying to push the official Chinese point of view. But still, looking at media published in Chinese for a

Chinese audience, yes, Adams is right. For example:

92吨进口奶粉遭退货

92 tons of imported milk powder recalled

And yes, that’s a general “substandard imported goods” story, but New Zealand certainly gets a dishonourable mention:

不合格食品名录显示,三批次进口奶粉亚硝酸盐超标,包括苏州市佳禾食品工业有限公司从法国进口的50吨脱脂奶粉,上海良昊置业发展有限公司从新西兰进口的28吨全脂奶粉,上海英联食品饮料有限公司从新西兰进口的14吨全脂奶粉。

The list of substandard food products shows three batches of imported milk powder with excess nitrites, including 50 tons of skim milk powder imported from France by Suzhou’s Jiahe Food Industry Company Limited, 28 tons of full cream milk powder imported from New Zealand by Shanghai’s Lianghao Property Development Company Limited and 14 tons of full cream milk powder imported from New Zealand by Shanghai’s Yinglian Food and Drink Company Limited.

Alright, not much detail, and a lot of other countries are mentioned too, but this has been going on for a long time now and one would think NZ’s dairy exporters would have learned. But this article on the People’s Daily website, but attributed to Cao Ping of Qianlong Green Beijing, is a whole different storyl, focussing on New Zealand and going into a lot more detail:

Read the rest of this entry »

I found two interesting little articles in my inbox today. One had some interesting statistics on imports of New Zealand milk powder into China. The other makes the kind of claim that makes you do a classic Hollywood double take and eye bugging.

First the statistics. This article has only three short paragraphs, the second of which is yet another rehash of the basic types of Made in NZ infant formula. But the first has some interesting statistics. According to Shanghai customs, 114 thousand tons of New Zealand milk powder were imported in 2012 (presumably only into Shanghai), an increase of 85.2%. An increase of 85.2% over the previous year? I assume so. From January to May 2013 85 thousand tons of milk powder had been imported, an increase of 81.5% – again the same assumptions of “into Shanghai” and “over the previous year”. Chinese dairy industry expert Wang Dingmian – who seems to be the Chinese media’s go to person for such things – said 75% of milk powder imported into China came from New Zealand.

Then in an intriguing third paragraph, Wang explains that you can tell a lot about which particular model of formula production has been used by studying the labelling. The barcode, for example, can tell you where the product was made. If the barcode prefix is in the 690 – 695 range, it was made in China. 76 is Switzerland, and 93 are both Australia and New Zealand. I guess now I’m going to have to learn how to read barcode numbers, because looking at a few around me I’m not sure what the prefix is. A packet of milk candy next to me has a 6 to the left, and then just inside the two long lines at the left end of the code, 93. Do I put those together to get a 693 prefix saying “made in China”? And looking at a couple of books beside me, the barcode numbers seem to be identical to the ISBN, so is all this industry specific? And then it says consumers with any suspicions can ask vendors to provide evidence of import and inspection – but as Mr Ji found out researching Oravida, many of the formula brands are already putting various kinds of evidence on their websites, so a quick Google or Baidu should suffice.

This article ends with the odd, lonely, little sentence stating the reporter learned that many Shanghai dairy companies use New Zealand milk. How that comes as a surprise when until recently Shanghai’s own Bright owned a majority stake in Synlait, and still has a fairly hefty stake in Synlait, I don’t know, but never mind.

The next article reports that starting June 20 all infant formula exported from New Zealand to China would have to be registered with the Ministry of Primary Industries. This isn’t really news. Christopher Adams of the NZ Herald reported it last Saturday, for example:

Until now, the ministry hasn’t been able to say how many brands are being exported to China. However this week it announced that from June 20, contract manufacturers will have to register with the department information about the brands they produce.

But here’s the sentence that had me up for an Oscar for Best Eye Bugging Double Take:

有的奶粉乳源并非来自新西兰,而是国产乳源出口转内销后回国贴牌。

The source of some milk powder is not New Zealand, rather it is milk produced in China and exported then shipped back and labelled.

Wow. Just wow. There have already been a few caught selling “made in NZ” powder that wasn’t, but going to these lengths? I guess that’d get them documentation from Customs and AQSIQ to say the milk powder was in fact imported.

This article also reports that China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology held a conference with 127 infant formula companies and plans to soon put out a policy to ban the registration overseas but manufacture in China Western infant formula trade and expand the scope of its management of imported milk powder.

 

 

coming up for air

June 15th, 2013

I’m still here. Don’t worry. Just been a bit busy, is all. Also, the NZHerald suddenly paying a lot more attention to China and particularly NZ-China trade has taken a bit of steam out of me… but that’s a good thing, because it means good writers publishing useful information in places people will actually read it. Fran O’Sullivan and Christopher Adams, in particular, at the Herald have impressed me, with this piece by Adams a good example of why.

I like that article because it’s clear Adams has been keeping an eye on this issue for some time, is getting good information, and understands the issues – including why some in China may be casting doubt on the claims many companies make regarding their “NZ made” formula. It’s a rather long quote, but here’s a great example:

The opaque nature of some firms involved in New Zealand’s baby milk trade became evident when the Weekend Herald tried to track down a company named in one of the CCTV news stories.

[….]

When a CCTV journalist showed up at the address, however, it turned out to be an auto repair shop on Great South Rd and staff at the business had never heard of the company supposedly involved in formula trade.

The Weekend Herald spent two afternoons combing the streets of east Auckland trying to track down the directors of the company, using details filed with the New Zealand Companies Office.

The Pakuranga address listed for one of the directors turned out to be non-existent.

The following day the firm’s accountant changed the details to another house on the same street, saying the previous address had been the result of a “typing error”.

A woman at the second address said the director – who had an entirely different address listed on the shareholder information page of the Companies Office website – didn’t live there.

Another shareholder is registered as living in an apartment block on Karangahape Rd, but the manager says no one of that name lives, or has recently lived, in the building.

Oh, and wait:

The People’s Daily newspaper reported that CCTV also sent a can of New Bay Bay for testing by the Government import authority in China, which found the product had selenium levels below Chinese standards.

New Bay Bay is apparently produced by Sutton Group. Sutton Group products failed inspection at least twice last year. How many times do they need to fail inspection before they learn?

But the comments of Westland Milk Products’ Rod Quin I find particularly interesting. He also “gets it”:

some serious issues need fixing, not least contract manufactured brands passing themselves off in China as “reputable New Zealand dairy processors”.

“We’ve traded on a safe and secure supply chain and high quality dairy products for many years and these guys chasing short-term opportunity put a lot of that at risk,” says Quin.

And his comments on the relative merits of dry blending versus wet blending are also solid food for thought – and suggest the solid professionalism of a former boss of mine, also a Coaster – do it properly the first time or just don’t do it.

Anyway, it’s just good to see people who Get It, in the media, the industry and even government, and it’s good to see the message getting out and getting listened to.

But what to do, especially in light of the possible political motivations behind certain events in China recently targetting NZ products, as discussed in Adams’ article?

Well, first of all, clean the industry up. And yes, a fairly large part of the issue needs to be dealt with by the Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese authorities. New Zealand’s authorities (MPI, Customs, whoever) can’t do a thing once the product is on a ship out in international waters. But there is a lot that NZ can do to clean up within its own shores. Like, for example, how is it that a company exporting large amounts of anything be registered to an address it has no connection to beyond the claim it made in its Companies Office registration? Can nobody in the Companies Office make a simple phone call, stop by the address claimed, or even just zoom in on Google Maps and hit Street View (?! yeah, really, try it some time… It’s pretty amazing to see the registered address of a company exporting large volumes of product looking for all the world like a suburban townhouse or some completely different company’s headquarters)? And what of these contract manufacturers? How much do they know, or bother to find out about, the brands they manufacture for? How much should they be required to know? And how is it that Sutton Group products fail inspection so often?!

Secondly, engage the Chinese consumer… and in that respect, this post by KEA on Weibo was interesting. The NZ Pure Shop has opened on Tmall to sell 100% pure NZ produce to Chinese consumers. Wait… I can buy Weetbix?! Apparently not… 2 litres of Oravida milk (not a brand that I remember, but an intersting apparent blend of Maori and Romance words for life, and it’s not like I’ve lived in NZ for… umm… a long time…) going for 128 yuan (around NZ$23! Strikes me as being rather steep, but then again, haven’t lived in NZ for… ). But my big question is “Who’s behind this?” Well, if they could get Trade Minister Tim Groser to officially open the store, it must be somebody fairly respectable, surely. But I’m struggling to find out who. None of the links I follow seem to offer any enlightenment. Nelson mayor Aldo Miccio apparently opened a NZ Inc Shop on Tmall, but I remember searching Tmall for it at the time and finding nothing. Still can’t. Whatever, I can certainly see plenty of room for greater clarity on who’s behind this NZ Pure Shop and how much we can trust them.

skin colour or fashion?

April 24th, 2013

So what to make of this? I see posts like this on Weibo reporting that a bar in Hamilton charged ethnic Chinese a NZ$10 cover charge, while charging white patrons only $5, with a link to Sky Kiwi’s full article here. A little poking around, and here’s the original Stuff article in English. The bar owner says that cover charges vary according to, among other things, state of dress – shabbily dressed punters are charged more, apparently. But, from the Stuff article:

The group of New Zealand-born Chinese are shown on Facebook that night wearing button-up collared shirts. But at the door, they were charged $10 to enter Bar101 while their white friend was charged $5.

“I’m not 100 per cent sure if it was [racial discrimination], but it feels like it,” Kingsley Sam said.

And he doesn’t look like a slob in the photo, either. Of course, the bar owner protests that it couldn’t possibly be racism:

“There’s certainly no desire to keep out one particular race. I mean, to be fair, if you did that in Hamilton with such a diverse culture as we have, you’d go out of business because we’ve got such a mixed-race society now.”

Well, I’d really like to believe that’s true…. But what he’s reported as saying about his bar’s policy seems so confusing, I really have to wonder how it is enforced, or could be fairly enforced, especially in light of the comments on denying undesirables entry and cover charges from a business rival.

I dunno, it might be a total non-story, but it doesn’t look good. Perhaps considering our Prime Minister has just toured China trying to drum up business and came back talking up the numbers of Chinese tourists NZ-bound, NZ business owners might do well to remember that whatever goes on in NZ is reported in China – sometimes, given how active the likes of Sky Kiwi are on Weibo, even quicker than it’s reported in NZ.

…and there’s an infant formula story bubbling away that I really need time to look into… hopefully I can get these exams marked and out of the way this afternoon…