woty wot hey

December 11th, 2013

Over at Public Address it’s Word of the Year time. All the nominations for WOTY are fair enough, but there’s one that I want but that doesn’t fit there, and I don’t know of any more appropriate place running a WOTY competition. So I’ll run my own. And I’ll win it, because there won’t be any other nominations accepted.

Here’s my word of the year:

And its standard English translation: Haze

Alright, so that’s two words, but it’s my competition, and I told you I’d make sure I’ll win it. But whatever, here’s why:

Back in January, when the air looked, smelled, tasted, and felt like it had been piped directly in from Hell’s chimney (and no, I don’t mean the Hell I’ve been to, that’s a nice place, at least in the summer), and the snow looked like it had been dusted with salt, pepper, and heavy fuel oil, I was taking a course in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. All my classmates were Chinese – well, I found out later one was Singaporean Chinese, but still, I was the only non-Chinese in the room for the whole course. I had a habit of getting up ridiculously early, making some doujiang to get me through the trip up to the Bei Da East Gate, then get some breakfast and a copy of the Beijing News from the stands up there, before heading up to the classroom. One day I was staring at yet another full-page spread on the smog crisis wondering what the second character in “雾霾” was, a character I couldn’t find in my dictionary. One of my classmates, another member of a fairly tight group of five of us who sat at the front and worked pretty solidly together, asked what that character was. Another said, yeah, I was wondering about that too. My reply was, well, if you don’t know how should I know? I was quite bemused that they’d ask me this because Chinese is a language I started learning at 23 years of age, whereas they’d all started learning Chinese by the time they were 23 months old. But another member of this group piped up and said, oh, that’s mái, it means like this dirty stuff floating in the air.

Then, of course, the question turned to how to say 雾霾 in English, so I taught them the word “smog”, explaining that just as 雾霾 is a combination of perfectly ordinary fog (雾/wù) with dirty stuff hanging in the air, “smog” is a combination of “smoke” and “fog”.

And since then, of course, 霾 has been all over the place, on Weibo, in newspapers, on TV. There’s a new system of smog alerts, with set procedures for responding to each level of alert. Basically, it seems to me that January was the point when China finally decided, right, that’s enough, we have to clean this place up. And I think that’s a pretty sweet silver lining to what was a really foul cloud.

But that brings me to the standard translation: Haze. I don’t get it. It just doesn’t seem to fit. To me, haze could be natural or artificial. It could be clean, caused by just a light mist or salt spray in coastal areas on a windy day (can you tell I’m from Wellington?), or it could be dirty, caused by fires or industry. Haze just doesn’t seem to cut it. Every Chinese-Chinese dictionary I’ve checked makes it clear that 霾 is dirty stuff hanging in the air. The possibility of a natural source is left open – and fair enough when you’re living somewhere as dry and dusty as northern or western China. But it’s clearly dirty stuff. “Smog” may be a bit too harsh a translation, referring as it does to pollution caused artificially by burning things like fossil fuels combined with natural phenomena, but “haze”, to me, just doesn’t cut it. And besides, every time I see or here 霾, it is referring to what is undeniably smog.

So there you go, there’s my Word of the Year: 霾 and haze.

Alright, so have a read of this. It’s a fine argument, isn’t it? Trouble is, it’s bollocks. Why?

It all started with the Roast Busters, then the treatment meted out to a friend of one of their victims by two radio hosts with…

…a record, shall we say.

And the response to those two shock jocks.

And then the response to that response.

And then Edgeler weighs in in the article linked above, and continues in the comment thread.

Now, I’m certainly not going to rehash the whole Roast Busters saga. Among many reasons why not, one thing the world does not need is yet another privileged white bloke spouting on about rape culture – but more on that later.

Nope, Edgeler has got me a bit riled up. See, reading his essay left me thinking “That’s all well and good, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with your argument, now what is it?… ”

Read the rest of this entry »

Steven Joyce in China

November 12th, 2013

So New Zealand’s Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce is in China for a visit. And once again, I find more information about this in the Chinese media than the NZ media. A quick Google NZ news search turns up not very much. Newstalk ZB continues to write radio-style. Topnews gives a little more. Stuff, well, noticed, at least. Scoop has the official press release – and oh, look, could that Sohu article be simply a translation of the press release? It looks awfully similar. Alright, the stats quoted a fairly impressive, but there’s one point that has me wondering:

Mr Joyce will also open the Shenzhen Hi-Tech Fair, China’s largest hi-tech event, where eight New Zealand companies will be exhibiting.

What is this fair and which eight companies are exhibiting?! This could be really interesting, perhaps even something to break the old “NZ as China’s dairy farm” mould. Well, here’s the China High Tech Fair, or in Chinese if you prefer. The search function doesn’t seem to work very well, and I can’t even see a search button on the front page of the Chinese version, I guess I could sift through the content of the links (pdfs!) on this page, though. Ah, this document (pdf!) lists Power by Proxi, NZ Natural Harvest Ltd, POLSOL International Ltd and Wellington Drive Technologies Ltd (but do they count? Well, HR at least is based in NZ and the state applicants must have the right to work in NZ…) on page 2. Four out of eight, and none of them making milk powder, cutting down trees, or edumacating. I’m not sure where the other four are, but this pdf, for example, has 24 pages of exhibitors, and it’s getting too close to lunch time, sorry.

So there you go: New Zealand: More than just cows, trees, and cheaper schools than Australia. It’s good to see that those 8 companies are getting exposure at the High Tech Fair. It would be nice to see the media doing more to inform people about them.

Westland now

August 19th, 2013

It’s Westland Milk Products’ turn, it would seem. But it also seems that Westland is handling this better than Fonterra has handled its food safety crises. It was while following links on a completely different, but equally worrying topic that I stumbled across this piece in the National Business Review:

New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries has revoked export certificates for four consignments of lactoferrin made by Westland Milk Products after unacceptable levels of nitrates were found in two batches.

Westland itself says in a media statement dated 19 August 2013 (and I guess the content of that link is likely to change over time):

Chief Executive Rod Quin said Westland had reported to the Ministry of Primary Industries that two batches of lactoferrin (totalling 390kg) showed nitrate levels of 610 and 2198 parts per million respectively. The New Zealand maximum limit for nitrates is 150 parts per million. The product was initially not identified as non-compliant during Westland’s routine testing regime prior to export. All of the 390kg of non-complying lactoferrin was sent to China.

“We immediately initiated a process to find and quarantine all of the product and it has been put on hold,” Quin said.


Westland also put a hold on all of its lactoferrin in its own warehouse and commenced re-testing all individual batches. All other lactoferrin product tested to date has returned results well below the New Zealand nitrates limit. No other Westland products were affected.


“Our investigation is underway to establish the root cause and we have implemented corrective actions,” Quin said, “so we can ensure this does not happen again.”

Which strikes me as being the right way to go about things – immediately notify the authorities and quarantine the affected product, test everything, figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Compare that with Fonterra’s apparent habit of long delays and drip-feeding of information.

But there’s more that doesn’t appear in the NBR’s report, nor in the Herald. China News reports:


According to information on the AQSIQ website, China’s Wandashan [Wondersun? Can’t make that link open, though] Dairy Co. Ltd.  is taking the main responsibility for food safety after an unusual nitrate content was found in lactoferrin produced by New Zealand’s Westland company.

国家质检总局已就此与新西兰初级产业部通报信息,核实受影响产品的情况。国家质检总局已要求相关检验检疫机构封存了问题产品,同时决定暂停进口 新西兰Westland公司生产的乳铁蛋白,要求所有来自新西兰其他企业的乳铁蛋白及Westland公司的其他乳制品进口时提供硝酸盐检测报告。

AQSIQ has already been in touch with New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries over this to verify the situation of the affected products. AQSIQ has already required the relevant inspection and quarantine bodies to seal the affected products. At the same time it has decided to temporarily halt imports of lactoferrin produced by Westland and requires all lactoferrin from New Zealand and Westland’s other dairy products to supply nitrate testing reports at the time of import.


AQSIQ requests the New Zealand government to completely examine the management systems and products of manufacturers shipping to China in order to guarantee safety.

So, Wandashan was the Chinese customer and AQSIQ is not happy with the safety of New Zealand food products.

But I have two questions:

  1. Dates! When was the lactoferrin in question produced? Just how quickly did Westland respond to this issue?
  2. Was Wandashan really the only Chinese company to buy the affected lactoferrin? Because both the Herald and NBR report that some of it was exported directly to China, while some was sold first to Tatua Cooperative Dairy Co. before being exported to China.

It certainly seems Westland is handling this issue better than Fonterra handled the DCD and botulism incidents, but without any dates to go by, how can we know?

Speaking of Fonterra, it’s not out of the woods yet. Here’s yet another article announcing the shattering of the New Zealand myth, an article that states:


If only domestic brands learn from past lessons winning back the market is not the dream talk of a fool

Now them’s fighting words! But there’s much stronger to come. It says that since the Fonterra botulism incident, the previously worshipped New Zealand milk powder has tumbled from its altar and that imported milk powder has lost its halo. This article sets up two “watersheds” or “divides”. I think “divide” is the image it’s looking for, as in a mountain range either side of which the water flows in opposite directions. The first divide is 2008’s Sanlu melamine milk scandal, which destroyed any trust Chinese consumers had in the domestic dairy industry and sent everybody scurrying for imported infant formula. The second divide is this month’s Fonterra botulism scandal which has caused people to rethink their views on Western brands – especially considering most of China’s imported dairy produce comes from New Zealand and Fonterra is by far the biggest supplier. After reminding us that this is by no means Fonterra’s food safety incident by mentioning Fonterra’s 43% stake in Sanlu (but, oddly, not mentioning the DCD scandal earlier this year) and that Fonterra and several other foreign companies have recently been done for price fixing, the article goes on to compare the prices of imported infant formula with domestic brands. Apparently over 10 imported brands are charging more than 500 yuan (but it gives us no unit), while one Yili brand goes for 156 yuan per 900 gram can. And some imported brands cost twice as much in China as overseas. And then:


For a long time domestic milk powder brands have suffered a serious “crisis of faith” among domestic consumers, while foreign dairy companies have used a high price strategy to increase their profits, sparing no efforts to creat a kind of “the higher the price the safer” concept of consumption.


It doesn’t matter if it’s Fonterra or another foreign dairy company, they all grabbed a tight hold on the psyche of Chinese consumers, unceasingly amplifying consumers’ feeling of crisis, and the prices of foreign milk powder also rose with Chinese consumers’ demand.

Now that is quite an accusation. Foreign companies have been deliberately stoking people’s fears in order to increase their profits? Well, ads for infant formula do tend to play on parental anxieties, showing how their formula, through an alphabet soup of pseudo-science, guarantees that babies fed that particular formula will grow up healthier, stronger and smarter than everybody else. And anybody buying their powder from Fonterra has played up the “clean, green, 100% pure New Zealand” thing. “Has played” because Fonterra has given that image a hell of a beating this year.

Then, having lamented the inability of domestic dairy companies to capitalise on foreign food safety scandals, the article states:

实际上,进口奶粉也是在国内利用国内工厂的工艺生产,据AC尼尔森数据显示,进口奶粉企业在国内工厂用干法工艺生产的产品,占中国市场的销量大概在 七成。而处于中国市场支配地位的几家进口奶粉企业的产品中,九成以上的产品都是企业的国内工厂用干法工艺生产的,原装进口的少之又少。

In reality, imported milk powder is processed in factories in China. According to AC Nielsen’s statistics, milk powder importers use the dry blending method to produce their formula and account for around 70% of sales in the China market. And of the products of the few milk powder importers dominating the China market, over 90% is produced using the dry blending method in factories in China. Only a tiny amount is imported in original packaging.


A milk powder industry insider said, “It’s generally acknowledged that dry blending produces an uneven mix, while milk powder produced through wet blending meets the standards for high quality infant formula, with a more even balance of nutrition, and it’s fresher.”


Compared with “Western milk powder”, domestic milk powder like Mengniu, Firmus, Yili and Wandashan have established their own milk suppliers and use the wet blending method.

The article also accuses foreign milk companies of hooking their customers while they’re still pregnant, quoting one Ms Qiu, who is expecting herself, as saying that at the classes for expectant mothers that doctors promote:


they all give out gifts of imported milk powder samples.

Now, somehow I don’t think it’s only the foreign companies that do this, and I’ve certainly heard of much dodgier methods of bringing in new customers, like buying the contact details of expectant mothers from the hospitals – heh, my own wife did get the occasional out-of-the-blue phone call from infant formula companies. But I’ve never before heard of only foreign companies employing dodgy methods like this.

Now, lunch is calling, and apart from the final section of the article being devoted to Mengniu, that’s all that grabs me from this piece. All I can say is it reads like another salvo in the fight to swing Chinese parents away from imported formula and back to domestic brands. And all those pixels devoted to Mengniu…


oh for crying out loud

August 11th, 2013

DCD, shipments of meat held up at port apparently because MPI didn’t adequately inform AQSIQ of changes to its documentation (although I think there may be a bit more to that…), botulism in the whey protein…

…and now this.

240 workers sitting at home twiddling their thumbs wondering if they’ve still got jobs all because:

Alliance general manager of processing Kerry Stevens said the Ministry for Primary Industries suspended Pukeuri’s certification for exports to China last month because cartons in the container were incorrectly labelled.

Chinese regulations demand a label on both the inside and outside of a carton.

And in Otago, too. I note the south seems to be having a tough time of it economically. And wow, this news must have the locals worried, to say the least.

But, once again, I have to wonder what went wrong. This doesn’t seem difficult: your export market requires your product to be labelled a certain way, so you label it that way, and provided you’re doing everything else right, particularly regards quality, hygiene, and safety generally, everybody’s happy, right?

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:


Fonterra: Affected products recalled in 48 hours

It goes on to explain:


“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:


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:


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:


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:


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.

two front pages

August 5th, 2013

First up, this morning’s Beijing Morning Post:


The top headline: 420 tons of problematic Dumex has entered the market.The photo: Shelves in a supermarket in Wellington, New Zealand.

Down the left of the photo: A timeline of Fonterra’s problems in China this year. January: DCD. July: NDRC anti-trust investigation. August: Discovery of botulinum contamination.

Front page number 2, today’s The Mirror:


See that big red “banned” circle? The black characters above the horizontal red line say “Fonterra”. The white characters within the horizontal red line say “AQSIQ calls a halt”. The black characters below the horizontal red line say “milk”, but milk of a raw material kind to be used in the manufacture of other products. The small black characters within the circle below “milk” say that Jingkelong, a Beijing supermarket chain, has found problematic, i.e. potentially contaminated milk powder. There are two branches of Jingkelong within a 10 minute walk of where I sit, and plenty more across the eastern side of Beijing and further afield.

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:


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..



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 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:


Revere the Western and suck up to the foreign



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:


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…


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 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:


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:


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:


…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:


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:


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.


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:


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.


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:


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.