|Farm workers stood beside urns and discarded milk yesterday in Hubei Province, China, as losses mounted. (Getty Images)|
Growing crisis troubles nation's dairy farmers
Complain they are not to blame for lost livelihood
YANGJIAZHAI, China - Yang Lianying frowned at the large steel tank that he and other Chinese dairy farmers in his village filled earlier in the day with milk from their cows. Bending down, he turned a red valve at the base of the container, releasing the cool, white liquid in a gush onto the concrete floor.
Amid a scandal over tainted milk that has ground China's dairy industry to a halt, farmers like Yang are being forced to toss out fresh milk and are being squeezed by feed costs they can't recoup.
"Nobody wants our milk right now," Yang said as he hosed and swept his income out the shed's back door.
Farmers like Yang, who lives in north China's Hebei province, are part of an industry that has lost public trust after tons of infant formula and other milk products were found to be contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in plastics and fertilizers, sickening more than 52,000 children and leaving four dead.
About a dozen local dairy farmers the Associated Press spoke to in Hebei complained they are not the ones responsible for the scandal that is costing them their livelihood.
Lacking buyers, the farmers are now forced to dump freshly pumped milk or peddle it to nearby villagers. And as uncertainties grow over the scale of the crisis, others say they plan to sell their cows before further losses mount.
Investigators say some raw milk suppliers, in hopes of clearing more profit, may have watered down their milk to increase volume and then added the industrial chemical melamine, which is high in nitrogen and artificially appears to boost protein content.
It is not known where in the supply chain the chemical was added to the milk. Experts have expressed skepticism that so many farmers would know to add melamine to milk as the chemical is not water-soluble and must be mixed with formaldehyde or another chemical before it can be dissolved in milk.
The Yangjiazhai farmers say the collection center once supplied seven tons of milk a day to Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group Co., one of the major dairy companies that sold tainted milk powder and infant formula.
Operations ceased after Hu Shumin, the owner of the collection center, was arrested for allegedly selling four packets of the chemical melamine to a cow breeder for mixing into milk, but it was not clear if Hu was accused of using the chemical at his own collection center.
Under the early morning's blanket of fog, Ma Junxi blew a shrill whistle as he pushed his bicycle along the main street of Hebei's Nanniu village, a blue plastic pail of milk strapped on one side of the bicycle. He sold small batches at a discount.
"I would rather sell it to the villagers cheaper," he said. "At least I can earn something."
Around the corner, farmer Zhang Yisuo heaved baskets of shredded cornstalk into a concrete trough for his 12 cows. He said he paid $30 a day to feed the cows and that he had not sold any milk in five days.
"I'm preparing to sell my cows," Zhang said. "I can't get by like this and who knows how long this will go on?"