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The Major Flaw in China's Melamine Crackdown

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on November 20, 2008

Finally, some additional numbers from the Chinese government about the extent of the poisoned milk scandal. According to the Ministry of Health, 50,741 Chinese children sickened by the tainted milk have been released from hospitals in the past two months. Another 1,041 remain hospitalized. Conspicuously absent from the Xinhua report: The number of deaths. When the story first broke in September, the media reported four children had died as a result of having consumed large amounts of melamine milk. Are we to believe that of the tens of thousands of other children sickened, no one else died?

Meanwhile, the Chinese government now is vowing to take steps to make sure the scandal doesn’t happen again. The Health Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry will both increase their oversight of the dairy industry. As the AP points out, though, we’ve seen this sort of thing before. The government did something similar after last year’s Made-in-China scandals, for instance. “After an initial unwillingness to acknowledge problems, authorities threw themselves into a campaign to protect export industries and bolster the country’s reputation as the world’s manufacturing base,” the AP reports. Going back further, the government behaved similarly during the SARS outbreak. But what sort of impact has the government had with these conspicuous crackdowns?

We can’t really know, since the Chinese media isn’t free and the government isn’t open. Or, as the director of Asia studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, China expert Elizabeth C. Economy, “As China’s global presence grows, the world increasingly is looking to China to assume greater responsibility and leadership on issues as wide-ranging as the global financial crisis, Darfur, and climate change. Yet Chinese leaders are reluctant to assume such a mantle of leadership, frequently arguing that the most effective means by which China can help the world is by taking action at home. The world should probably listen. Until China’s leaders fix things at home, they can’t really tackle the global problems abroad. And without fundamental governance reform-as fundamental as the economic reforms launched 30 years ago by Deng Xiaoping-China’s leaders will never tackle their domestic problems successfully nor realize their desire to be a responsible actor internationally.”

Reader Comments

Genevieve Long

November 21, 2008 11:46 AM

I have interviewed several ex-FDA employees, experts and toxicologists, and we probably have a major problem with melamine in the U.S.:

Genevieve Long

November 21, 2008 2:16 PM

People in the U.S. should be concerned that the FDA is basically only able to check about 1% of imported products. That leaves Americans vulnerable:

American Consumers Vulnerable to Contaminated Milk


November 21, 2008 7:12 PM

Major omission!!!! Investigate the melamine industry HERE AND IN CHINA.You don't plug a dike with a bucket below the hole! Doesn't anyone care that the poison is MAN-MADE therefore MAN stoppable. Or is gonna take a distraught Chinese/American WOMAN to plug the hole?


November 21, 2008 9:46 PM

I agree, china still a poor country and not like US the super power. China still need to learn from US how US regulate their food Industry.


November 21, 2008 10:46 PM

Another sweeping assertion made by a Western journalist without an irrefutable level of proof.

I remember back in 1989, the Western media was saying that China cannot made further economic progress without adopting Western democracy. And look how far China has come since then!

How about saying that Western democracy is fundamentally flawed because it did not manage even to detect the sub-prime bubble that leads to the present financial meltdown until it has grown too big? Perhaps the reason was that the Western commentators were too busy finding fault and looking for bubbles, real or imagined in China's system to notice the big big one growing right under their nose?


November 22, 2008 3:28 AM

Agree! Actually without a fundamental change in its political system, China will not be able to solve its domestic problems and at the same time transform into a responsible member of the international community, let alon becoming a leader.

Tip of Iceburg

November 22, 2008 7:49 PM

Mellamine problem is just a tip of iceburgs. It is well known Chinease argiricultural and fisheries products contain anti-biotics, steroids, pesticides, toxins. They are keenly found in export products. If you don't be a vitic of super bugs, just don't eat them!


November 23, 2008 11:14 PM

Regulation may not be enough as Chinese system has Guanxi and group responsibility.

@Tip of Iceburg

November 24, 2008 1:12 AM

Subprime mortgage problem is just a tip of iceburgs. It is well known American financial and mortgage products contain toxic substances. They are agressively sold worldwide with faked American credit rating agency reports. If you don't want to get wiped out financially, just don't buy them!


November 24, 2008 1:16 AM

Actually without a fundamental change in its political system, America will not be able to solve its perennial and recurrent financial problems and at the same time transform into a responsible member of the international community, let alon remaining the leader. In fact America is causing the world to go into a global depression again.

@ Bruce Einhorn

November 24, 2008 1:35 AM

Since you are so smart, I hope you can tell us the flaws of American credit crisis bailout plan, or is there one really? At least tens of millions of global investors sickened by the toxic financial 'innovations' has not yet been recued from financial ruins in the past sixteen months. Another hundreds of millions investors remain tramatized. Conspicuously absent from main stream American media report: The number of suidcides abd homicides associated with the global credit crisis. Meanwhile, the American politicians now are vowing to take steps to make sure the financials scandals doesn’t happen again. (Vows that had been taken before in each financial crisis) As I am going to point out, though, we’ve seen this sort of thing MANY TIMES before. But what sort of impact has the government had with these conspicuous recurrent financial crisis?

The world should probably listen. Until American’s leaders fix things at home, they can’t really tackle the global problems abroad. So why is America counting on China to bail us out of the global financial crisis created by American 'ingenuity'?


November 24, 2008 5:37 AM

America is financially bankrupt. So America won't be able to buy contaminated chinese products. Don't worry about buying american toxic financial products. So doom is on China's economy!


November 24, 2008 11:44 AM

Surely, everyone has problems. Apparently every political system has flaws. It's ok to criticize their shortcomings. But don't try to fool us that the western ones are better. The issues is each one should focus on solving its own problems.


November 24, 2008 12:18 PM

@ Passerby: It takes two to Tango. America put out the junk products, but the resto of the world bought them without checking to see what was in them, too. America needs a sampling system to catch and reject shipments of unsafe products. We need to put more customs duties on everything to cover the cost of testing.


November 29, 2008 1:18 AM

Even American milk powder have been found to contain Melamine contamination! Incredible! Food quality is important everywhere and its quality should be enforced whether you are "communist" or "democratic" and not used as soap box to lecture other!
China requesting more information on melamine-contaminated U.S. infant formula
+ -
09:26, November 29, 2008


November 29, 2008 1:21 AM

China requesting more info on tainted US baby formula
Updated: 2008-11-29 10:10
Comments(4) PrintMail

China's quality watchdog said Friday it has requested US counterparts to provide more information on US-made infant formula on sale in China that was detected as containing the industrial chemical melamine.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine took the move after the US-based news agency Associated Press broke on Wednesday that traces of melamine had been detected in samples of top-selling US infant formula, Abbott Laboratories, Nestle and Mead Johnson, which are on shelves in China as well.

A large number of parents in China are feeding their babies with infant formula branded by the three firms. More mothers have turned to foreign brands, including these three, as they lost trust in domestic firms, which are blamed for killing at least three babies and poisoning 50,000 others across the country.

The quality control agency of China said Friday it would pay close attention to the developments.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the levels of melamine detected so far were extremely low and insisted the products are safe. However, the US Consumers Union told AP on Wednesday the FDA assertion was "of small comfort to parents and caregivers," and "It is very disturbing...that no recall has been requested."

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