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Reassuring tactics?

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James Reynolds | 12:56 UK time, Friday, 19 September 2008

Right now, China might want to remember Cordelia Gummer.

In 1990, Britain was worried about infected beef and "mad cow disease". The government insisted that no-one need panic - Britain's beef was fine.

John GummerIn order to make the point in a dramatic way, Britain's Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister John Gummer decided to feed his four-year-old daughter Cordelia a beefburger in front of the cameras. It was a slightly curious, much criticised and derided tactic.

I wonder if the Communist Party's been thinking of anything similar in recent days. The food scare which began with tainted baby milk powder last week has been getting worse and worse.

On Friday, everyone here woke up to find that more dairy products had been affected - including the normal milk that you or I would buy in the shops. The government insists that most milk is safe to drink - but that doesn't reassure very many people.

This afternoon, at the Tesco supermarket in Beijing, milk was still on sale. But most shoppers avoided the dairy counter. Parents have continued to take their babies to hospitals to be checked for kidney stones.

Perhaps China's Health Minister, Chen Zhu, may decide to invite the media to his house to watch him and his family drink pints of milk and eat ice cream. But maybe not. It didn't really work when John Gummer tried it.


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  • 1. At 2:08pm on 19 Sep 2008, onjournalism wrote:

    Chinese people have yet to develop a trend of openly deriding those in power who care too much about gving an impressive 'presentation' to prioritise people's pressing problems--and matters of life and death in the case of food security.

    Fortunately, a growing number of Chinese have gradually begun voicing their concerns over the state governance in a more overt fashion----which is indeed a relief.

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  • 2. At 2:19pm on 19 Sep 2008, timbatu wrote:

    I think this milk news is good. At least, it reveals the profound and wide-spread use of milk in China.

    Not long ago, BBC reporters are still describing China as a nation of lactose-intolerant - devoid of milk.

    Imagine the anger and frustration of us Chinese, who grow up drink milk daily.

    All we can say is that the reporters are obviously ignorant and prejudiced to the extent of making people mad. They have no clue about China.

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  • 3. At 2:40pm on 19 Sep 2008, beijing_2008 wrote:

    James - are you incapable of referring to the government of China as, simply, the Chinese Government?

    In the second paragraph you talked about the British Government - why did you not, in fact, speak of the Conservative Party?

    If being elected is the only barometer for legitimacy, I don't see how Labour - for whom less than 1/4 of the British public voted for - can be deemed the legitimate government of Britain.

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  • 4. At 2:46pm on 19 Sep 2008, tclim38 wrote:

    If China is to be a strong country, those government officials who are responsible for overseeing food safety should all be locked up. And, the higher ups need to come out explain and apologize to the people... perhaps resign.

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  • 5. At 2:57pm on 19 Sep 2008, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    China's government so far has been relatively indifferent to the value of human life both at home and abroad. But when it has an impact abroad, it jeopardizes business, China's number one concern at the moment. China's government has failed to take strong measures in other important regards too. Among its most serious crimes, failure to prevent unauthorized piracy of western products. This is more than just stealing profits from people who have a right to them, it has put many lives in jeopardy. Not just phoney parts for aircraft, automobiles and other machines where faliure can cause injury or death but fake drugs which find their way to market around the world but do not offer the kind of medical treatment for serious diseases expected of them. Among the worst are fake anti-malaria drugs being marketed around the developing world. We don't know how many people have died as a result but it is proably at least in the many tens of thousands. Many of the fake copies appear very much like the real thing even to expert eyes. Technicians at Merck were shown some of the best copies of their own drugs and had to admit that they looked good....but tested worthless. How many Chinese will die for the same reason? When will they demand action on this too or aren't they even aware of it?

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  • 6. At 2:58pm on 19 Sep 2008, hizento wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 7. At 3:00pm on 19 Sep 2008, wonderfulchinese wrote:

    The poor parents and babies are having a hard time.

    People are staying away from diary.

    Firing squard is getting ready for the evil brothers.

    The central government is running off its feet.

    The companies, milk collecting stations and the local government are trying to hide.

    James is doing overtime shifts.

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  • 8. At 3:34pm on 19 Sep 2008, ccpbrain wrote:

    We are called "communist" for reasons. What you described was not communist but capitalist. Our communist officials are responsible to no one but the party.

    Besides, you believe all those high-ups consuming any domestic food, beverage, medicine? You are so naive. They can show him drinking milk, but anyone would think that's the same you buy on market?

    One year Chairman Hu visited my village and the whole county was under martial law and quarantine for more than a week. We were told he won't even drink local water, it's too polluted for such a important person to touch. Everything was hauled in.

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  • 9. At 3:46pm on 19 Sep 2008, thisisacryforhelp wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 10. At 7:28pm on 19 Sep 2008, denzil39 wrote:

    Well written article. James, carry on your good work in China and make the world know a true China, also make China know the real world...

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  • 11. At 9:02pm on 19 Sep 2008, democracy101 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 12. At 9:10pm on 19 Sep 2008, DieChicomsFreeBurma wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 13. At 9:15pm on 19 Sep 2008, waikikisam wrote:

    What really scary is this may only be the tip of the iceberg. Besides milk products, there are tons of other package food products: canned meat, package seafood, cookies and candies...etc. How about medicine? Pain killers, cold remedies....I just wonder what will be the next item.

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  • 14. At 9:23pm on 19 Sep 2008, tglambert wrote:

    Magic touch to gain trust instantly back? Probably not. However, if any good can come out of this outrage, yet sadly unsurprising incident, it would have to be that hopefully changes are on the way to protect consumers’ right. These are my take on what has happen to gradually ease consumers’ fear (it is complete amateur and just personal opinions):
    1. Transparency: The consumers need to have effective channels to make complains, concerns. And independent groups/websites should be able to quickly get the words out and let the consumers rate the products. Allegedly parents were complaining since March, imagine how many babies would be saved from the pain, should the news be out then?
    2. Instead of Micromanagement, let the free market be free, let the competition encourages better products and better services.
    3. Ethics/moral changes: I am not sure how this will come about, except it has to happen. The fundamental belief of wrong and right has to be instilled. Cheating is cheating, no matter what form it comes, instead of always looking for alternatives, alternatives should be condemned.

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  • 15. At 10:08pm on 19 Sep 2008, sinodeplant wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 16. At 02:01am on 20 Sep 2008, voodohaze wrote:

    Give us a break James, you're harping on about this tainted milk subject is getting tiresome now. Move on! Leave this to the main news articles now and find something new to blog about. You're not really adding any new insight into the issue, rather you're just repeating stuff already out in the media.

    US criticises China for religious freedoms, BBC makes this a headline news article on News Homepage and Asia Pacific section, singles China out again. The US has no credibility now and yet the BBC pounce on this opportunity to bash China again.

    No sign of equivalent articles in other world region sections about other countries so called restrictions of religious freedoms. eg. Saudi Arabia.

    Typical BBC bias, prejudice and demonizing of China again and agian and again.

    We all know that the BBC is just a publicly funded activists organisation anyway. Which would make it corrupt and illegal as that's against the 'on paper only' BBC charter.

    Why doesn't the BBC write daily headline articles about the thousands of innocent muslim civilians being brutally killed by US and Western forces without care or remorse. That's the US regime's solution to the problem.

    Is anything I write a fair representing of facts, probably not, but that's the same level of reporting we get from the BBC.

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  • 17. At 04:36am on 20 Sep 2008, hughye wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 18. At 06:35am on 20 Sep 2008, suozhe wrote:

    Good perspective, James. I hope Zhu would not perform such a public stunt. He used to be a biologist, he should know better. I won't buy it for a second that local government is unaware of all these taintings by the companies. Judged by the scale of companies found faulty, this seems to be a common practice in the industry. Imagine the heads of those companies having dinner together and joked over expensive wines:"hey, how much melenine do you add to your products lately?"

    I think a more thourough solution to the milk scandal or any scandal alike is to establish a judicial system that is independent of the government.

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  • 19. At 2:08pm on 20 Sep 2008, lawrenceOmagh wrote:

    it is someone who wanted to make a fast buck, are doing all these fakeries,and have gotton away with it. Chinese's tough law does n't seem to apply to many top ranking party members.

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  • 20. At 7:04pm on 20 Sep 2008, ricecake202 wrote:

    Great job James!

    If John Gummer did it, Wen Jiabo or Hu Jintao can do that too. They can help to solve the crisis by drinking Chinese milk products in front of news media's cameras.

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  • 21. At 7:19pm on 20 Sep 2008, MyBlurgle wrote:

    The difference is in the numbers and in the reason. Mad Cow has probably affected a goodly dozen people over thirty years and was not deliberate. This has affected thousands over a very short time period and was absolutely deliberate.

    When ethics are sacrificed to profit (as I'm afraid they usually are in China these days, as they were in the UK in the 1800s) evil runs rampant. China needs consumer protection, but to get that the individual - not the group, not the family, but the individual person - has to become supreme.

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  • 22. At 9:04pm on 20 Sep 2008, spakky wrote:

    shame moderation is taking so long on this blog. over 24 hours to approve your messages is way to long.

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  • 23. At 01:11am on 21 Sep 2008, lucilleb wrote:

    Adding melamine to dairy is obviously a widespread practice in China and has been going on for possibly years, with someone recently just adding it to baby milk powder or more than they usually do.

    the worrying statements about safety for adults 'unless drinking over 2 litres a day' seems to confirm this to me

    The question should be asked where did the idea come from? is adding melamine a chinese invention? or is it a practice in other countries with poor quality control and quotas and has been handed down the grapevine? where could you get hold of such an idea?

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  • 24. At 01:39am on 21 Sep 2008, voodohaze wrote:

    Poor, poor, poor!

    Your blogs contain no new relevant information and offer no new insight into the situation, just a rehash of the news already out there in the general media or some information of no real substance or value.

    Also, with statements like "Perhaps China's Health Minister, Chen Zhu, may decide to invite the media to his house to watch him and his family drink pints of milk and eat ice cream." is almost childish in nature and not forgetting a little bit silly.

    But thanks for the UK mad cow reminder, just shows you that another western democratic government also cannot keep an eye on its food production or standards. I remember all the news pictures of the mass burning of cows in huge pits. A scene from Hell. And yet all China bashers are brainwashed into thinking that only China has food production problems. We've yet to see the long term effects of the mad cow debacle yet. And that crazy British western democratic politician, what a thing to do to one's own child, disgraceful.

    So James, less harping on about communist this and communist that, western politicians are some of the most disrespectful, war mongering, deceitful, self preserving, self serving, negligent, incapable, egotistical, power mad individuals on this planet.

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  • 25. At 02:08am on 21 Sep 2008, EWONGNL wrote:


    I guess China's Health Minister, Chen Zhu, will invite foreign correspndents into his seaside villa, give you guys a 3-hour revoluationary XinHua speech using capitalist EMBA style bullet- point slogans. And then, when the lunch time comes, hand out each of you hungry guys a big chuck of Menniu cheese, to show that he has already 'corrected ' his mistakes.

    My questions is: you gonna eat it?

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  • 26. At 02:16am on 21 Sep 2008, EWONGNL wrote:

    Sorry James,

    An error in my previous posting. How could XinHua still uses revolutionary speeches? How stupid am I to forgot that thay are not revolutionary anymore? The catchword nowadays is harmonious. A harmonious speech then.

    Next time when you comes back to EU, pls don't forget to check your degree of harmonisation, apart from kidney stones.

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  • 27. At 11:12am on 21 Sep 2008, voodohaze wrote:

    BBC moderator where are you? Typical British efficiency in getting anything done. Seeems like the British are only good at invading countries, stealing foreign lands and slaughtering or enslaving people.

    Thinking back when the UK used to be a manufacturing country, I used to remember that british goods were regarded as unreliable and shoddy, even as an advanced developed country. And all this abuse about China's quality standards, which is still a developing country. Funny how the west still buys these goods. China is only meeting the demand from the world. "It's only business".

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  • 28. At 7:03pm on 21 Sep 2008, onjournalism wrote:

    To those Chinese bloggers who are quick to fight back and yet slow to swallow the new situations:

    Some of us apparently still haven’t recovered from the outdated syndrome that was once familiar to Chinese people in the past when China was threatened by western imperialistic power.

    We are all taught in school that how the penetrating insights of Chinese eminent scholars such as Lu Xun were effective in exposing imperialistic ambitions to ridicule and condemnation. It was righteous indignation for Chinese people who suffered a great deal from unfair and cruel treatment under duress.

    But the times have changed; as a Chinese living abroad, all I can see and hear from foreign media or ordinary people is how China is on the path to becoming an unparalleled economic superpower and how that fact will and is having a powerful impact on the shifting political structure across the world.

    If, to use a popular Chinese expression, the lion/tiger during the western imperialism needed to wake up from a long and deep sleep, then it is time for the vigorous lion/tiger to refrain from flexing too much her muscles and take stock now .

    We should appreciate healthy and constructive criticisms from both inside and outside—just ignore malicious ones— to ensure the government treats well the vast majority of Chinese people, let alone those in dire need of help.

    Too much praise, whether sincere or unctuous, can ruin a bright future of a country, as well as an individual.

    The milk scandal is a good example showing how it is important to put those government officials and business leaders under close public scrutiny so as to protect and improve the well-being of ordinary people in China.

    As a country, China is safe now even with all doors open—but obviously not the Chinese food!

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  • 29. At 7:29pm on 21 Sep 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    i have to agreed with our blogs about re-assuring the common citizen about the safety of the food...

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  • 30. At 02:29am on 22 Sep 2008, lawrenceOmagh wrote:

    I wonder if the minister's daughter is strong and healthy. If this were to happen in the West,Shanlu would have been shut down for good. What a shame.

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  • 31. At 03:00am on 22 Sep 2008, voodohaze wrote:

    The US had its own cases of US companies using melamine in the production of cattle, pig, chicken and fish feed that would have ended up on the dinner plates for human consumption. These toxic US products were even exported overseas.

    Plus the tainted feed fed to cows around the world that resulted in mad cow disease, BSE, especially in the UK. Many people are still concerned about the long term effects of that food production scandal.

    So even the advanced developed countries with all their regulations and technology have their fair share of food scandals.

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  • 32. At 04:27am on 22 Sep 2008, TaiyuanRen wrote:

    Looks like BBC moderators drank too much Chinese milk.

    Or consumed too much Chinese rice.

    Or Chinese cough medicine.

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  • 33. At 05:15am on 22 Sep 2008, carlos0053 wrote:

    For those of us whole have lived in China for a long time, it may be worth pointing out that your whole concept is off the mark. The senior people in the Government will not be affected as their children (yes, they will have more than one child) will have been drinking expensive imported milk powder and improted fresh milk.

    Also, they will not even pretend to think that they need to show the people that the milk is safe. The media will suddenly be full of stories that all is now OK.

    One other point; In any other country the parents of the dead children would be in the news/on TV etc expressing their grief and dissatisfaction. Here they have not been heard from. They have been nicely paid off and told to keen quiet or lose the money. That is how all the many, many issues here are made to go away - and the harmonious socialist society will continue as normal.

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  • 34. At 08:00am on 22 Sep 2008, wonderfulchinese wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 35. At 3:30pm on 22 Sep 2008, sinodeplant wrote:

    what is taking so long for you people to post the comments?

    people are dying in China and we need to know.

    you guys take longer to moderate these few comments than it does to check a few thousand batches of tainted milk in China.

    inspection-free status will no longer be acceptable and stronger, more on-site testing of all batches of food stuffs will be a norm.

    and heads will roll like the boxes of tainted milk into the pits.

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  • 36. At 3:36pm on 22 Sep 2008, onjournalism wrote:

    3. beijing_2008

    Glad that you are nowhere close to representing the majority of Chinese people.

    I am wondering if you are capable of focusing on the point, other than resorting to the overused tactic: 'Don't criticise my government/politicians because yours are not so good either' ?

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  • 37. At 4:02pm on 22 Sep 2008, beijing_2008 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 38. At 4:40pm on 22 Sep 2008, marty42 wrote:

    The debate between Chinese people on this issue in the blog provides an interesting insight into debates which must be taking place within China. Thanks for provoking it James.

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  • 39. At 5:07pm on 22 Sep 2008, simleung wrote:

    Why don't you simply call it the "China Government"??

    Chinese feel shame and your article is a good reminder.

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  • 40. At 8:40pm on 22 Sep 2008, nikki noodle wrote:

    (para 6) It is hardly a surprise that "most shoppers are avoiding the dairy counter in Tescos" in Beijing.

    but what I would like to know, over here in the UK, is what the *chinese* people are doing, where they are shopping, in the markets and at the corner stores; I am not really interested in what the *ex-pats* are buying or not buying in Tescos.

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  • 41. At 8:40pm on 22 Sep 2008, DieChicomsFreeBurma wrote:

    Considering the number of people (especially children) who die around the world due to starvation, disease, war, etc (everything that could be solved if governments stopped playing politics and economics, especially third world governments like china who try to play hardball just to save some silly face) every single day, the china milk thing seems pale in comparison.

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  • 42. At 10:09pm on 22 Sep 2008, Walsh of Wembley wrote:

    timbatu wrote: "Not long ago, BBC reporters are still describing China as a nation of lactose-intolerant - devoid of milk."

    That is because this is a fact (in relation to anyone over 3 anyway). Children up to the age of 3 usually have the lactase enzyme which helps to break down lactose regardless of race. After the age of 3, this enzyme begins to decrease, but due to thousands of years of exposure to milk by our ancestors, Europeans carry forward the enzyme allowing us to digest milk without discomfort into adulthood. It is Europeans who are actually in an 'unnatural' state here. There are still roughly 7% Chinese who remain lactose tolerant though.

    A couple of mixed up photos in Tibet and the BBC are the scourge of the Chinese nation.

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  • 43. At 10:15pm on 22 Sep 2008, antimatterbomb wrote:

    I was surprised to see Mengniu and Yili on the tainted milk list and thought putting melamine into milk was indeed a common practice. But after reading detail test results for some of the brands I am actually not that worried now: according to my experience Mengniu's 7mg/kg, Yili and Guangming's 9mg/kg are very likely to be contamination, not to mention most batches tested are melamine free. Of course there should not even be any contamination and no way we should feed them to anyone, but those figures are clearly different from Sanlu's 2000+mg/kg which could only be the result of deliberate addition to pass the protein test.

    Assuming the test results released by AQSIQ are reliable, I dont really need the gov to reassure me that most liquid milk is melamine free---that does not include other types of diary product or other possible contaminants. So until they find out the next 'unknown additive', I will have no problem in gulping down litres of Mengniu if my mum insists me to do so.

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  • 44. At 00:15am on 23 Sep 2008, talkteacher wrote:

    I am living in China and can see a good chance to root out the corruption that is behind the suffering that goes on here with the need for profit.
    So far one man has ‘stepped down’ but like others before him it will be just taking a step sideways.

    Well the figures are grown daily; 50,000 babies have symptoms, 13,000 in hospital with more serious symptoms and 4 dead.
    We have things like this in the west; someone gets mad for losing their job and contaminates a product.
    But here we are looking at 23 companies in 30 Provinces and NO ONE knows how it happened!
    Melamine is a chemical added to falsify milk's protein content which can cause kidney stones, renal failure and death.
    It is in fact classified as a controlled substance here in China, but has used been illegally for sometime now.
    So where did it all start?
    Who owns the factory?
    Who works in the factory?
    Who drove the truck and delivered the Melamine to a milk producer?
    Who are the people that added the Melamine to the raw milk?
    (One man has been arrested and said he used 3 tonnes every week)
    Who are the lab technicians who tested the contaminated milk?
    Who are the lab technicians who tested the contaminated product as it left the factories?
    Now is the prefect time to find arrest and punish the slum that put Money and greed before lives.
    The Government should set up a ‘Hot line’ so people with information can pass it on to a law enforcement agency and expose the people behind this scandal.
    Has money was the main reason people did it, maybe the Government should offer a reward for information say 10,000 rmb for a conviction, I am sure the milk industry would support this idea too.

    Let ‘money talk’ and see how much information it will buy.

    An English man in China


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  • 45. At 10:27am on 23 Sep 2008, flyingtearsinyoureye wrote:

    Evil-doing will definitely be condemned no matter where this happens. The problem is that when such scandals happen again and again, who and what can we trust? Isn't every tragedy serious enough to ring the bell in the whole nation? But why do disasters still happen in a row?

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  • 46. At 10:59am on 23 Sep 2008, beijing_2008 wrote:

    What I think people fail to realise is that this unfortunate incident is not the result of the political system in China, but rather because China - still a developing country let's not forget - has developed too much too quickly.

    The laws preventing these kinds of things already exist in China, but they are being broken by greedy businesses. We have seen food scandals in democratic countries also - Britain and Japan are two examples. Would a more enlightened political structure in China have prevented this? I believe not. It was, after all, Chinese media that broke this story and, now, the perpetrators of this crime are being held to account.

    The common denominator in all this is greed, not communism.

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  • 47. At 5:36pm on 23 Sep 2008, Phil_Bloggs wrote:

    'The difference is in the numbers and in the reason. Mad Cow has probably affected a goodly dozen people over thirty years and was not deliberate. This has affected thousands over a very short time period and was absolutely deliberate.'

    The UK government banned the use of animal products (read dead animals) in animal feed. That same material and we are speaking of rotting carcasses, was promptly sold to the French. And this after the link was established.

    The French bought enough to run a couple of power stations for a while. They got wise quickly and put it to other use.

    Mad cow may not have started 'deliberate'
    but selling a dangerous product to the French was reprehensible.

    And its not over yet. Symtoms are yet to start for some.

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  • 48. At 3:23pm on 24 Sep 2008, wtlhInLondon wrote:

    LoL. :-D, well that kind of thing never really works. Politicians are the worst people to use for a advertisement campaign.

    A better strategy may be to cool this down as much as possible, just hope that time and other issues (or just make up some other big issues) may help to make people to look the other way, then followed by some flashy commercial during Children's TV time, and attract the innocent part of the population first. This hopefully will drag the parents and soon the population into buying dairy products again.

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  • 49. At 08:27am on 26 Sep 2008, thisisacryforhelp wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 50. At 9:54pm on 04 Nov 2008, fayfayrock wrote:

    well, Honestly
    I'm not sure how did u find Tesco in Beijing.
    'cos Tesco had been failed in Chinese supermarket competition.
    Tesco now is only focusing in small cities and towns.
    why donot u go to other supermarkets?
    See?this is your problem.

    China is not Britain, and u guys r always trying to find something British.
    To some extend, this is stupid.

    Luckily, Uk is in recession now.
    How lucky we r!haha

    However, it is true, the poisoned milk is a fact and I think Chinese dairy brands will getting well.
    Chinese government is trying to solve the problem [I guess u may think I am controled by Chinese governemnt now,haha], this is our believe!
    HU Jintao+WEN Jiabao will lead China to a better future, unlike the British.

    I think the british would better say something about their obesity, silly education in the primary school[the food science teacher asked me:'do we put cold water or hot water into the flour to make bread?' can't stop laughing in my mind]

    I just wanna say, UK is downing now, either the british young people, and your economy.

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