Following the news published by the Associated Press last September (432 babes sick from Chinese tainted milk product which stated that "A Chinese state news agency has reported that more than 430 babies have suffered from kidney stones from contaminated milk powder" and also stated that "A New Zealand dairy cooperative that owns part of Sanlu said Friday it believed none of the tainted powder was exported."), the BBC is carrying a story today. In China firms ‘to pay milk victims’:

Chinese dairy firms involved in the tainted milk scandal are to compensate the families of the nearly 300,000 affected children, state media said.

Twenty-two companies will make an undisclosed one-off cash payment to the families, Xinhua reported quoting the China Dairy Industry Association.

It comes as the first defendants from the food industry went on trial accused of making and selling melamine.

It’s not clear where these trials are being held (one assumes in China), but it’s good news that Sanlu is being held accountable — first, because people were harmed, and secondly because China exports goods to the rest of the world and, as covered by our Questioning Chinese Imports article, this is but one in a string of harmful Chinese imports over many years. Further, from today’s article:

The scandal has tarnished China’s food industry far beyond its borders.

Indeed. I’m happy that China’s economy is improving; however, according to a Reuters July 19, 2007 article, China warns U.S. against "smear attacks" on imports:

China warned the United States on Thursday against "groundless smear attacks" against Chinese products and said it was working responsibly to address concerns over a spate of recent food safety scares.

"The Chinese Government has not turned a blind eye or tried to cover up. We have taken this matter very seriously, acted responsibly and immediately adopted forceful measures," said a statement by China’s embassy in Washington.

"Blowing up, complicating or politicizing a problem are irresponsible actions and do not help in its solution," the Chinese mission said in a rare policy pronouncement.

I don’t know upon what it based its charge of "groundless smear attacks"; perhaps something was left out of the article that might put these statements in context. However, taking that article at face value:

Problematic U.S. imports from China — including toxic ingredients mixed into pet food and recalls of toy trains and toothpaste — were isolated cases and "hardly avoidable" amid huge and rapidly growing bilateral trade, the statement said.

"It is unfair and irresponsible for the U.S. media to single China out, play up China’s food safety problems and mislead the U.S. consumer," it added.

That sounds good and all that, but it seems pretty clear that if you want to participate in "huge and rapidly growing bilateral trade" — where people actually buy your products — it might behoove you to ensure that whatever you’re exporting is not harmful. That Reuters article goes on to say:

Appealing for strengthened cooperation between Chinese and U.S. food inspection authorities, the statement urged Americans to "respect science and treat China’s food and drug exports fairly."

Really. What science allowed these imports? Better yet, what oversight?

When people shop for food or products, they (not being chemists) don’t bring testing equipment to determine their safety. We must rely on any information we can get about the products being offered — what they are, what they contain, and where they come from, at a minimum. So if it is not considered "fair" to warn people of health hazards as they occur, I’m not sure what was being asked. People talk — as well they should.

When the Reuters story hit in July 2007, I was going to say that you’d think that China might have caught on that these incidents (some of which were lethal, and at least one of which had occurred a decade earlier only to be repeated in the last couple of years) just might have been the reason for the alarm in the Western media. Were we supposed to hush it up at the demand of a government — so that more people were harmed?

So, in wrapping up this rant, I’ll say that I consider it a good sign that this Sanlu lawsuit was filed and is coming to a conclusion. For my household, it isn’t enough to cause me to trust Chinese imports, but I’ll hope in the meantime that China implements enough oversight and "science" to overcome it’s tarnished reputation.

Now, if that isn’t enough, the BBC is carrying another story today: Hong Kong widens China food tests:

Hong Kong is stepping up its tests of mainland Chinese food products, and is asking China’s help to trace the source of melamine contamination in eggs.

Health secretary York Chow said Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety will begin testing Chinese pork, farmed fish and offal products.

Testing of animal feed, chicken meat and eggs will also be introduced.

Hong Kong scientists found excessive levels of melamine in one brand of mainland eggs on Saturday.

The extra-large "Select Fresh Brown Eggs" imported from the Hanwei Group in Dalian in northeastern China, were found to have nearly twice the legal limit of melamine.

In the meantime, there was an announcement from ABC News that Whole Foods Market is importing from China.

ADDED: Milk scandal executives on trial
Looks like they’re pretty serious about it.

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