State media

Is no milk safe, anywhere in the world?

Life Times, cover date 23 September 2008

Life Times (生命时报) is a weekly newspaper on health, medicine, and wellness that grew out of the Global Times weekly supplement "Life Week."

Its most recent issue features a cover story on the most pressing health issue of the day: the safety of powdered milk. The large headline reads "Milk powder businesses must have a conscience."

The subhead reads "Foreign brands have had crises, too; their management system has much to teach."

Zhai Hua, a blogger who covers cross-cultural issues, took issue with the way the cover feature referenced international milk powder scandals:

Life Times: "Our milk has problems, but your foreign milk isn't clean either"

by Zhai Hua

Whenever there's a scandal, the habitual response of certain people is to cover it up, and to minimize major problems that can't be covered up. If it can't be minimized, then there's another technique: prove that it exists in foreign countries, too. This time is no exception. Sanlu's milk powder has become kidney stone powder, and other famous national brands have been laid low as well. Life Times, a domestic paper attached to a major newspaper, has taken advantage of its position to report what its journalists, stationed all over the world, were able to find: "The safety of milk powder is actually a global problem. It's not unique to China; across the whole world, there have been milk powder safety incidents involving more than a few famous and well-regarded businesses in major infant formula producing nations like the United States and Germany." The following are five recent crises involving foreign milk that Life Times reporters found:

  • March, 1998: Milk sold in Germany was found to be high in dioxin. The source of the problem was revealed to be animal feed containing contaminated citrus pulp exported from Brazil.
  • September, 2002: A Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spokesperson urged local residents to immediately stop using Special Batch Milupa HN25, a German infant formula. The formula had been contaminated with Enterobacter sakazakii, a bacteria that can cause inflammation of the gut and meningitis in newborns.
  • November 10, 2004: US-based Heinz, an internationally-known food producer, issued a recall of infant formula for sale in Israel. The formula had caused the deaths of three infants and had made ten others ill; analysis showed that Vitamin B1 had not been added to the formula, resulting in encephalopathy.
  • Late April, 2005: A spot-check by the Zhejiang Province Bureau of Industry and Commerce revealed that a batch of Nestle milk powder exceeded iodine standards by 41.6 micrograms. The cause: the producer had not inspected the iodine levels of raw milk or the milk powder.
  • February 22, 2006: The US Food and Drug Administration announced a recall of 41,000 cans of Mead Johnson's Gentlease infant formula because metal particles were discovered which could present a serious risk to the infant's respiratory system and throat.

Looking over these five cases, it appears that their effect was limited in scope, and from the reporters' descriptions, it seems reasonably certain that these were unexpected contaminations, utterly dissimilar in both quantity and quality to the profit-seeking, large-scale intentional counterfeiting and complete disregard for the health of consumers that is found in the present domestic incident. Taking a step back, even if foreigners are black-hearted enough to lie and commit fraud, once we've proven that they're all a bunch of bums, does that mean that our own actions deserve understanding?

To be fair, the feature does include an article that reports on strict inspection standards found in major milk-producing countries, suggesting that China could apply them to its own industry.

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There are currently 18 Comments for Is no milk safe, anywhere in the world?.

Comments on Is no milk safe, anywhere in the world?


i'll take my chances with (a) a negligent act which results in illness followed by full and swift public disclosure of the error, over (b) a knowing act which results in the same degree of illness followed by a 60-day cover-up and a swift scapegoating of bit-players any day.

enjoy your milk, Ah Q--i mean, Zhai Hua.

Two wrongs doesn't make one right!
In any case,One was a mistake and swiftly, openly aknowledged & corrected.
The other (San LU) was for illicit profit.

Nice to see a response to the annoying "Chewbacca defense" anyone who criticizes China so often faces.


Global Times and 参考消息 are China's Fox News.

I just hope that the Chinese people understand that everything published in China is biased. You will never hear the actual truth. It is similar in the United States, but not quite as tainted with the "national pride" that coats Chinese media. Why else do you see U.S. citizens commenting on blogs outside of our borders? We go to search for various opinions. We aren't perfect and China isn't perfect; neither is "better". Enjoy our differences and listen to that little voice in your head that tells you to be compasionate and giving to others.


I have seen Chinese commenters on sites such as The Washington Post. Some of them make good points, but even those usually include some illogical or angry nationalist arguments.

Back in 2004 China "bashing" was the institutional norm. Problems like bank insolvency, desertification, tens of thousands of mass protests each year, the Anhui powdered milk incident, and pollution were mercilessly reported on daily. There's no indication any of these problems have been adequately addressed. Yet now, the Chinese and their powerful yank corporate supporters like Kissinger or Greenberg from AIG & the Council on Foreign Relations have pushed what's considered balanced & moderate on China way over into the country's favour. If they succeed in surmounting the problems facing sustainable development just with their relentless barrage of FDI then I guess we'll have to get used to China's view on things, factual or otherwise, though.

What the Chinese do is post the most extreme view of their position so that those who endeavour to find a balanced position are fooled into placing it deep in pro-Chinese territory. The other thing they like to do is counter any criticism with charges of hypocrisy, as this article touches on. So, OK, just to be balanced and fair to the Chinese, let's all abandon criticism and the notion that principles should be followed for the sake of it, sit back, and watch civilization as we know it collapse. It's not like western society is devoid of self criticism. However, We don't have the largest and fastest growing wealth gap in the world or the greatest environmental destruction per square km.

The real crime is how these companies have convinced women that the powder they buy is better than the milk produced by their own bodies. That's capitalism at it's finest.

It's too bad China feels it has to subscribe to this morally vacant western system in order to survive. The Imperial society may have been awful, but it was far more sustainable and far less people got cancer.

People living under authoritarian rule have a hard time accepting criticism(or not take them seriously), and China has just started joining the international community so it's pretty normal to have extreme reactions when there is a sudden avalanche of criticism exposed to the Chinese.

I am a Chinese and I've studied domestic politics extensively, I can assure you that China is on an irreversible road to more openness and WANTS to be an major global player, it is both what the Chinese people and government are striving for. The nationalist sentiment will ease off as we dive deeper into the multinational market economy and political reform, why? because the opposite would destroy what we have tirelessly built.

Give China more time.

"Give China more time."

Although many outside China are concerned that if China ruins itself it will become a burden on the rest of the world even more people just don't want China to export its problems. SARS epidemic, diethylene glycol in toothpaste (51 deaths in Panama), melamine and other contaminants consciously added to foodstuffs, of course the World Health Organization is asking for stricter protocols and immediate reporting even as countries come to understand Chinese authorities cannot police these exports. Time's up, and countries will initiate their own testing and ban broad ranges of Chinese products to protect their public's health.

Maybe off topic, just a general comment.

It seems that my comment on this got lost somewhere on her way... it doesn't really matter how and why it happened. Just want to say, everyone likes forums like this one because we express our views however different one person's might be from another's. Shall we give at least those innocent ones a breeak, and stop labeling others "spy", pro this anti that? It makes people feel less free to say what they'd have otherwise liked to say. After all, we're all humans, we sometimes simply can't get away from what others think or say.

I have been thinking what it will take for China to change and I think I have it: Some foreign resident of China dying from these bogus products.

The concerns over Chinese products are for the most part legitimate. My question is, how many foreigners have died because of eating or using these while in China?

it takes nothing to change, in other words, it won't change, its stuck here. mining accident is a perfect example, it was here ever since commercial exploitation began, and it is here today, with no remote sign of going away, people just don't care about death or other's suffering in general.

it will change when conscience and the system change.

apparently a large proportion of people are lactose intolerant especially as they get older. I'm surprised so many Chinese people drink milk considering research has found that 90%+ of us are have decreased lactase activity.
It's funny how Chinese are taking up cow's milk while many of us in the West are drinking soy lattes!

Peter Yang,

Will democratization bring change? Sure, but I don't think IT is the answer. You have a lot of messy democracies out there.

the "system" I was talking about is the product safety and supervision system, not anything relating to national politics, in this particular case, we need a complete overhaul of the quality control scheme, we need to create laws that tighten the standard and give consumers more rights, we need to encourge the media to pay special attention to these issues.

This case has nothing to do with democratization, but if you insist, my thought on democracy is that there is a threshold, a set of benchmarks for society's "democracy readiness", which include literacy level, rule of law, economic well-being, an effective constitution (and people's respect to it), and etc, these factors form the foundation of a working and sustainable democracy, and when they do, people will be better off living under democracy than autocracy, and vice versa.

Places like Lain America and South Asia have historically been filled with hatred, violence and division, so no system can perform well there. The fact that nations like India or Philippine are poor has more to do with their governance and people's education level, not democracy.

Democracy is an abused concept, it has strayed far away from its original intend, which is rule by the ruled, that very purpose and how we can achieve it for China, should be what we are striving for.

People who opt to give their kids this garbage have it coming, no matter where in the world. That this is a national crisis in China, showing that so damn many people were using this junk food, ought to be a regulatory wakeup call to China--your medical professionals need mental help.

William: dont you think it is a bit too soon for you to jump into generalizing CHINESE by a few comments you saw made by CHINESE sounding illogical and angry? what sounds illogical to you doesnt necessarily mean the same in a different culture. Angry nationalistic comments might be provoked by the false or exaggerating reporting. Please stop judging others based on your ethnocentric opinions. you are not the only one in the world that is reading different opinions from various sources and leaving comments of rational arguments.

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