Tuesday, September 30, 2008

China's Milk Scandal Covered Up by Olympic Image Imperative

It would seem that the decision of the IOC to hold the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, what was construed as a nod from the international community as recognition of China’s economic progress, continues to have a negative fall-out effect. Recently, the Sanlu Group, one of China’s biggest producers of milk powder, has had to recall up to 700 tonnes of powder tainted with a chemical melamine. To date it has made 6,000 infants ill and as of September 18th, 2008, four are dead. The blame has been put on the middle men who collect milk from dairy farmers. These workers add water to the milk to increase its volume and then to mask it, they add melamine, a chemical used to make plastic, to boost the protein content and fool inspectors. Melamine has already made its debut in the U.S. through Chinese imported pet food tainted with the chemical.
The problem with this recall is that it is beginning to look like it should have happened WAY sooner. The government of Gansu province in China’s west says it told the Ministry of Health on July 16th about an unusual upsurge of kidney stones among infants who had all drunk the same brand of milk. It was not until September 1st that the ministry says its experts tentatively concluded that the powder had caused the sickness. Still, nothing appeared to happen.
Prodding from the government of New Zealand may have been what eventually goaded the Chinese authorities into action. On September 8th it told them what it had learnt from Fonterra, a New Zealand dairy company that owns 43% of Sanlu. Fonterra says it was told by Sanlu of a problem with the powder on August 2nd, six days before the games. Helen Clark, New Zealand’s prime minister, said Fonterra had tried “for weeks” to persuade local officials to allow a public recall. Instead, in an unpublicised recall, powder was withdrawn from shops. It was not until Sept. 18th that the large scale 700 tonne recall was conducted.
Speculators have pointed to the Olympics as a reason that the milk was not recalled sooner. Officials did not want the games to be marred by a food scandal. However, if the olympic games were a chance for China to build up its soft power by showing the world what a great nation it has become, showcasing its economic and social progress to the world, I would call it a chance that was squandered. With reports of security crackdowns, revocation of an already limited freedom of the press, businesses forced to close in order to make room for construction of water cubes, and etiquette books passed out to citizens with instructions on how to dress and cheer when in attendance at sporting events would hardly constitute the ideas contained in the Olympic movement. And now it seems that even the health of Chinese citizens was not as important as the image of the Chinese nation during the games. From a national security standpoint, it raises questions of the quality of and truth behind a nations projected national image. If we cannot trust the quality of the milk powder coming off the shelves, can you trust the quality of the national image being projected over the airwaves?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wait! We can't trust the ChiComs? Thank goodness we can trust the Obama campaign!!11

In all seriousness, this is quality work. And such.