Imagine that you are the parent of a 1 year old and you live in China. In the last few months you had to take the train into Hong Kong to stock up on (or hoard) huge cans of baby formula because you don’t trust the ones that are produced in your city.
The Tainted Baby Formula Scandal was made public after the Beijing Olympics – although several victims have openly said that they tried to alert the authorities well before the start of the Games, but were effectively thwarted/ignored. It should be apparent to the global community at large that this is the PRC’s most significant food safety crisis in decades. Here are some reasons why.
1) The government’s recognition that the adulterated milk is the result of an underground network operation implies that there are loopholes in the government’s regulation of health and safety
2) Sanlu is a leader in the $18 billion Chinese dairy industry and its chairwoman was a party official who was appointed by the government
3) Health officials have found traces of melamine in diary derivatives exported to Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, France and Philippines, magnifying the scope of contamination
4) In 2007, Premier Wen Jiabao made a public pledge to overhaul safety regulations for food, drugs and other products in response to the May 2007 pet food safety issue in North America. In light of this pledge, it is difficult for the public to remain objective on the effectiveness of the government’s policy.
Realizing this, the government has enacted ‘damage control’ measures really quickly which included the sacking of various city officials in which Sanlu is based. However that is not enough – there is some much needed overhaul of the entire dairy industry starting from the small scale dairy farmers to the government inspection board to the foreign ownership of Chinese dairy companies.
In a rare display of humility, Wen Jiabao has openly admitted to the Chinese government’s inadequate supervision of the industry. Although the repercussions of this will be felt throughout China for months to come, the world will definitely be waiting to see how the government attempts to restore confidence given the publicity of the case and the damage it has done to China’s reputation.