CURRENT EVENTS-CONSUMER AFFAIRS:
HALF THE WORLD BANS CHINESE MILK PRODUCTS WHILE CANADA AND USA DITHER:
The list of products and companies implicated in the growing scandal of melamine contamination of milk and milk byproducts in China and its export markets continues to widen. At the same time the number of countries that have instituted either total or partial bans on Chinese products made with milk continues to grow. Here's the list so far:
*Bamgladesh (three brands banned and melamine testing to be done on all imports)
*Benin (powdered milk products)
*Bhutan (total ban)
*Brunei (total ban)
*Burundi (total ban)
*Cameroon(ban on milk and powdered milk)
*Columbia (ban on powdered milk)
*Costa Rica (total ban)
*Columbia (powdered milk)
*European Union (powdered milk, infant foods)
*France (total ban)
*Gabon (total ban)
*Ghana (total ban)
*India (total ban, three month moratorium)
*Indonesia (total ban)
*Ivory Coast (total ban)
*Malasia (total ban)
*Maldives (total ban)
*Nepal (total ban)
*Papua New guinea (total ban)
*Philippines (dairy products, infant food)
*Singapore (total ban)
*South Korea (ban on all products with powdered milk)
*Suriname (total ban)
*Taiwan (dairy products ban)
*Tanzania (total ban)
*Togo (total ban)
*Vietnam (total ban)
The above list, taken from several different sources, is undoubtedly out of date as I speak. Most problematic is Japan where melamine has been found in several different products either imported from China or made with Chinese milk based ingredients. Given the scale of the problem in Japan it is likely that a total ban will be instituted soon. Within China itself, and Hong Kong, companies that have had to institute recalls notably include the Starbucks chain, Nestlé and the Heinz brand. Meanwhile, according to an article in the Bloomberg Report the World Health Organization has stated on September 26 that there was "deliberate failure" in reporting the problems with the contaminated milk. Information on when concerns were first voiced and by whom have become a disputed matter. The main dispute is between New Zealand based Fonterra Cooperative Group which held a 43% interest in Santu Group, the first company identified as a peddler of tainted milk, and Chinese authorities. Fonterra claims that it began to pressure its Chinese affiliate last March, after the first complaints about their product has been received as early as last December. Chinese authorities fault Fonterra for keeping the news "private"until the matter was finally reported to city authorities in Shijiazhuang on August 2. The central government of China, however, did not begin any action until September 10. This was despite having definitely incriminated melamine as the problem as early as September 1.
It was not until September 13 that the Chinese Ministry of Health gave its first news conference on the matter and declared a national food-safety emergency. Since them heads have rolled as the Chinese government has attempted to attach blame to anyone but its central agencies. The mayor of Shijiazhuang has been dismissed. The CEO of Sanlu, Tian Wenhua has been arrested. This basic timeline is confirmed by an article in The Economist magazine (September 20,2008) entitled 'Formula for Disaster' (complete article to subscribers only). For a Chinese perspective and continued reporting on the matter go to the English language Danwei website.
Here we come to the crux of the matter. The timeline is suggestive of a deliberate cover-up of the matter on the part of central authorities because of one cardinal fact. The Chinese government had put considerable pressure on all domestic news agencies to report only "positive news" in the run-up to and during the Olympic and Paralympic games in Beijing. Did this also means deliberate foot dragging in the case of local and even central government authorities ? Or was it simple bureaucratic sloth and incompetence ? You be the judge.
What does this have to do with Canada and the USA ? Perhaps everything. The ruling parties in both countries are now in the midst of election campaigns. The last thing they would need would be a major "food safety" scandal on the level of what happened with pet foods and toothpaste last year, even though Canada is in the midst of at least one such problem, the listeriosis outbreak. This especially true as a full bodied move would expose the fact that both countries have done little or nothing to safeguard their publics from repeats of what happened last year.There would never be any smoking guns found in such a situation, as the pressure to "tone-down" any response would be conveyed more by subtle "suggestions" than anything else. It this perhaps the reason why most of the world has reacted much more vigorously to the problem than Canada and the USA have in only recalling a very limited number of products ?
Once more, you be the judge. China and the Olympics ? Canada and the USA and the elections ? Perhaps so.