Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Beijing is launching a campaign to reassure the nation and the world that "there are no more problems" with melamine in milk. But in the meantime, suspicions are emerging that there may be carcinogens in Chinese wines, while prosperous families are paying head-spinning prices for wet nurses.
"Everything is under control. There are no more problems" with tainted milk, says Wang Yong, the new head of the general administration for quality supervision, inspection, and quarantine. Two days ago, Li Changjiang was driven out of the post for neglecting food safety in the dairy sector. About a year ago, Li and the Chinese leadership had announced more strict controls over food safety, with higher quality standards. The office has been highly criticized for failing to prevent at least 22 leading companies from adding melamine to powdered milk for infants, to fresh milk, and to other products. Melamine is high in nitrogen, which makes food to which it is added seem more nutritious, but it is toxic. The result: at least 53,000 infants with kidney problems, about 13,000 hospitalized, at least 4 dead. For days, websites have been posting comments and chats with accusations of corruption and incompetence, forcing Li (extremely faithful to president Hu Jintao since his membership in the communist youth movement in the 1980's) to resign. In practice, for years his office had neglected the supervision of the most famous brands, believing that their name was a sufficient guarantee, and leaving the companies to supervise themselves.
There have also been accusations of corruption: on August 2, Wu Jianping, head of the department of food safety, committed suicide after questioning over corruption.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is also making efforts to restore trust: after the "public apologies" presented a few days ago to the population, yesterday in New York he gave assurances that Beijing will bring its food safety measures up to international standards, admitting for the first time that the current controls are insufficient.
The companies involved, like Mengiu and the Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, are also saying that milk will now be subjected to constant supervision, and will be completely safe.
The problem is also serious because of its scope (melamine in 10% of the products tested from the three leading companies) and because in 2007, many Chinese products were found to pose health risks: toys, toothpaste, pharmaceuticals, dog food (this also contained large quantities of melamine). China defended the products, accusing its critics of exaggerating the problem.
Now the rich Chinese are "rediscovering" wet nurses: the large agencies in Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou are offering up to 10,000 yuan per month (about 1,000 euros; a year's salary for a manual laborer) for wet nurses with sufficient milk, and even more for those with a good education. One agency says that "Most of the wet-nurse applicants are young migrant mothers working in Shenzhen who would rather save the milk to get a high salary and send their own babies back to the countryside to be fed with milk powder".
Meanwhile, today Kweuchow Moutai and Yantai Changyu Pioneer Wine, leading companies in the production of wine and liquors, denied the accusations on the part of some websites that their products contain sodium nitrate, which is highly carcinogenic. The news immediately caused sharp drops in the companies' stock prices.