Tainted milk problem kept secret in China
Authorities had investigated dairy
BEIJING - Chinese authorities secretly investigated a dairy for nearly a year before announcing the company had been producing milk tainted with an industrial chemical, reflecting the country’s unease with the transparency needed to restore public confidence in food safety.
The Shanghai dairy had been part of one of China’s worst food safety crises, the 2008 tainted milk scandal in which six children died and more than 300,000 fell sick after drinking baby formula contaminated with an industrial chemical. Dairy and local officials were accused of keeping the scandal quiet until after the Beijing Olympics.
The government promised sweeping changes and more openness after the milk powder deaths became public, but a city official yesterday said that authorities knew about the latest contamination in Shanghai Panda Dairy Co. products last February - and then kept it quiet until a vague announcement on New Year’s Eve.
“We paid a very high price back in 2008 for the milk powder scandal, but now it seems the authorities still haven’t learned their lesson from it,’’ said Wang Xixin, a Peking University law professor.
Food safety authorities have not said whether anyone has been sickened by consuming tainted milk products produced by Shanghai Panda. Calls to the company rang unanswered yesterday and its website was down.
China enacted a food safety law early last year after the milk scandal, saying authorities should immediately tell the public when food products have been found unsafe for consumption.
Chinese authorities, however, often have been unwilling to promptly publicize negative news for fear of being punished.
Notable examples include the apparent coverup in 2003 of the early spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in China, and a major chemical spill on the Songhua River in 2005 that officials did not announce for 10 days. Last fall, more than 50 local officials and journalists were accused of helping to cover up a coal mine disaster that killed 35 people shortly before the Olympics.