Chinese Milk Producer Asked for Help with Cover-up
Sanlu Group, the manufacturer involved in
In a statement, the group said, "Several Chinese journalists have said that it is becoming more and more obvious that the authorities in July prevented an investigation in the toxic milk coming out so as not to tarnish China's image before the Olympics."
The Reuters article quotes government spokesman Wang Jianguo as saying, "The bungling of the best opportunity to report up the handling of the issue caused much harm to people's safety, and seriously affected the image of the Party and the government."
According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 27 people have been arrested because of the contamination.
Importing Chinese-made baby formula is illegal, and officials say they don’t think the Sanlu product has found its way to the United States yet. However, there was an instance where a Chinese-manufactured formula was discovered in a store in New York in 2004.
China’s Health Ministry has warned that those responsible for the contamination will receive “heavy punishment.” Officials have questioned dozens of people who could have been involved in the milk powder contamination, including dairy farmers and milk dealers. Sanlu won’t disclose whether its own employees are being investigated.
Complaints about the formula were apparently filed with Sanlu as early as March. However, Chinese officials reported they didn't know about the problem until a few days ago. The New Zealand dairy farmers' cooperative Fonterra, which owns a portion of Sanlu, said it urged action in recalling the tainted milk weeks earlier. Fonterra is the world's biggest milk trader.
China's food safety chief has resigned from his post since the milk contamination was made public.
Suspicions of contamination have moved beyond just milk products to foods that contain milk as an ingredient, such as candies, cakes and cream. The European Union has proposed to test all imported products from China that contain more than 50 percent milk powder; random testing of products already on shelves would also take place. "As far as we know, for the moment, no contaminated products are on the European market," EU spokeswoman Nina Papadoulaki said in a Bloomberg article. The EU doesn't import Chinese dairy products like milk and yogurt, but does import items such as cookies and chocolate, which may contain milk.
Taiwan's government had decided to continue allowing the sale of Chinese milk products in the country. The resulting public outrage prompted the resignation of Taiwan's health minister, Lin Fang-yue. He had only been in his job for four months.
Officials say they have visited hundreds of specialty stores in the United States, and haven't found any contaminated baby formula from China, according to Bloomberg.com. "We need all hands on deck to keep this dangerous contamination from reaching U.S. consumers," New York Senator Charles Schumer said in a statement. "Black-market Chinese goods and food regularly slip through lax international and domestic inspections."
On Sept. 20, Hong Kong reported that a 3-year-old girl had developed a kidney stone after drinking milk produced by China's Yili dairy that was contaminated with melamine. On Sept. 21, Hong Kong announced that it had found melamine in Chinese-made Nestle brand milk.