China: Hit by new toxic milk scare

Chinese authorities have made 96 detentions of people suspected of producing and selling melamine-tainted dairy products

The news of yet more toxic milk and dairy products on sale in China is a shock for Chinese consumers and parents, following the big melamine-milk scandal of 2008 that resulted in eight deaths from kidney failure and made around 300,000 infants ill. Last year a new scandal erupted as leftovers from the impounded toxic milk products from 2008 were sold back into the market by profiteers. Tainted dairy products were found in more than 11 Chinese provinces in 2010.

Mainland authorities have recently investigated 40 cases involving tainted milk and detained 96 suspects since July, Xinhua News Agency reported. Over 2,100 tonnes of milk powder containing melamine – an industrial chemical usually used in the manufacture of plastic packaging, kitchenware and furniture – was discovered in the crackdown. This is despite a complete ban following the 2008 scandal. Melamine was widely added to powdered milk in the past to boost its protein content. Foreign companies operating in the Chinese dairy industry have also been found to sell tainted products. In the 2008 scandal, a total 22 companies were implicated. Two people were executed and the government said that all suspect milk powder had been confiscated or destroyed. But as has later been shown this was a false dawn for industry safety.

The dangers evident in the dairy and food processing industries are symptomatic of wider problems in China. Trade unions and independent workers’ organisations are outlawed and the media are regularly served with gagging orders to hush up events that are embarrassing to the one-party dictatorship. This was the case when the melamine-milk scandal first broke at the time of the Olympics Games in Beijing. The authorities suppressed the news on this until the Games were over, for fear of damaging the prestige of the ruling party as it hosted its first major world event. Weeks of critical time were lost in tracking down the tainted products and alerting parents of small children.

Last year, a Beijing court jailed the leader of a parents’ self-help group called the ‘Kidney Stone Babies’. Zhao Lianhai was sentenced to three years for his campaigning activities on behalf of melamine victims. This savage sentence, part of a rising tide of tougher jail terms and stepped up repression, shocked public opinion in China. Internet chat rooms and blogs saw millions of angry comments slamming this unjust verdict. The sympathy for Zhao was so intense that the dictatorship appears to be on the verge of releasing him – on “health grounds” – which, if it happens, would be a sensational climb down and show the increasing problems for the one-party state as it attempts to crush all dissent.

Many have been quick to point out the link between continuing food safety scares and the persecution of those like Zhao who attempt to raise public awareness and campaign against state censorship. These dictatorial methods and above all the ban on working people organising democratically in order to fight for better conditions, for safer production methods, and to smash corruption and profiteering, are responsible for the reoccurrence of these problems.

Socialists and the website warned at the time of the 2008 melamine scandal that the Beijing regime’s combination of cover-up, police measures and bribes to selected victims to drop their greivances, would not result in the necessary fundamental clean-up of the dairy industry. We have been proved correct. The only real answer is the place the food and beverage industry, along with other major industries, under the democratic control and management of the working class, involving on a democratic and transparent basis representives of consumer groups, the medical profession, and other sections of the population. This way it would be possible on a non-profit and fully democratic basis to plan the economy to meet the needs of society. This is the democratic socialist solution.

Capitalism and dictatorship are bad for your health!

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January 2011