News & Current Affairs

September 17, 2008

Bitter taste over China baby milk

Bitter taste over China baby milk

Hebei People"s Hospital in Shijiazhuang

Parents are queuing at hospitals for check-ups for their children

China’s growing scandal involving milk powder suggests the country is still not able to protect its citizens from tainted food products.

Despite many other recent cases involving sub-standard food, inspectors failed to prevent toxic milk powder being fed to children.

Strict laws but poor enforcement appears to be part of the problem. China also seems to have a number of unscrupulous suppliers.

Chinese consumers are only too aware of the problems, as they have shown by buying more trusted foreign brands of milk powder.

Kidney failure

At the center of this current scandal is the Sanlu Group, a company based in the city of Shijiazhuang in Hebei province.

It has been selling milk powder tainted with the toxic chemical melamine, used in industry to make such things as plastics.

This chemical makes the milk powder appear to contain more protein than is actually the case.

So far, three children have died and more than 6,000 have been taken ill after drinking the powdered milk. Nearly 160 have experienced acute kidney failure.

All the children who became seriously ill drank milk made with powder produced by Sanlu, according to Chinese health minister Chen Zhu.

Wang Wenli
If there is a problem with the milk powder then there is likely to be a problem with fresh milk too
Wang Wenli, mother

But the scandal is not limited to just one company.

In a development that will surely worry the government, inspectors have found melamine in milk powder produced by 22 companies – one out of every five suppliers.

China’s laws do not seem to be the main problem, according to a senior employee at a foreign firm that produces baby products in China.

“There are laws and the laws are very strict. When we want to launch a product, there are so many things we have to do,” said the employee, who did not want to be identified.

Chinese central government officials often complain that these good laws are not heeded, a claim backed up by the industry insider.

“There is a lot of corruption, and Chinese companies can often find ways to carry on producing,” she said.

In order to avoid the problems now facing Sanlu, this foreign firm sends its own inspectors to check products bought from Chinese suppliers.

Rules bent

As well as being prepared to bend the rules, some Chinese suppliers also seem willing to knowingly supply tainted food products.

In this current case, melamine appears to have been added to fresh milk at milk collection stations, before being passed on to Sanlu.

According to the state-run China Daily, one man arrested over the scandal confessed that he had added melamine to milk, despite knowing it was a health risk.

He added that his family never drank the contaminated milk.

As a senior official put it at a press conference on Wednesday, China does not test for melamine because it does not expect anyone to add it to milk powder.

Tian Guangcai

Tian Guangcai only feeds his grandchild imported formula milk

“There are no special requirements on the inspection of toxic chemicals… because these kinds of chemicals are not allowed to be added to food,” said Li Changjiang, head of the country’s quality watchdog.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the system comes from Chinese consumers, who have to eat and drink the products bought in markets, shops and supermarkets.

“It’s outrageous, nobody can eat anything any more,” said Tian Guangcai, who looks after his four-month-old grandchild.

Mr Tian said the child – like many other Chinese children – only drinks milk powder made by foreign companies.

Those foreign brands are now flying off the shelves.

Wang Wenli, whose three-year-old son stopped drinking milk powder last year, is now even reluctant to let him drink fresh milk.

“Think about it, if there’s a problem with the milk powder then there is likely to be a problem with fresh milk too,” she said.

The government’s reaction to a baby milk scare in 2004 shows just how difficult it is for consumers to judge what is safe to consume.

At that time, parents were told they should select one of 30 approved brands.

This latest check has revealed that products from some of those approved firms contained melamine.

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August 17, 2008

Iran launches satellite carrier

Iran launches satellite carrier

Iran says it has successfully launched a rocket capable of carrying its first domestically built satellite.

Officials said only the rocket had been fired, correcting state media reports that the communications satellite itself had been sent into orbit.

The White House voiced concern, saying the technology could also be used for launching weapons.

Tehran has pursued a space program for years, despite international concern over its nuclear plans.

In February it sent a probe into space as part of preparations for the launch of the satellite.

Long-held ambition

Footage aired on Irinn (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network) showed the launch of the Safir rocket in darkness.

The presenter said that the satellite launch was a trial which was successful. State and military officials confirmed the launch had taken place.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was at the event, said one report.

In October 2005 a Russian-made Iranian satellite named Sina-1 was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.

Sunday’s launch comes amid a long-running dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: “The Iranian development and testing of rockets is troubling and raises further questions about their intentions.

“This action and dual use possibilities for their ballistic missile program are inconsistent with their UN Security Council obligations.”

The US and some European countries have demanded that Iran curtail uranium enrichment – but Iran protests that its purposes are peaceful and says it has a right to continue.

August 14, 2008

Japanese satellite rides skyward

Japanese satellite rides skyward

Ariane launch (Esa)

An early evening launch for Ariane

The first wholly home-designed and built telecommunications satellite for Japan has gone safely into orbit.

The Superbird-7 spacecraft went up on an Ariane rocket from Europe’s Kourou launch facility in French Guiana.

Built by the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, the satellite will deliver TV and other services to Japan and the wider Asia-Pacific region.

Currently, all Japanese broadcasters and commercial telecoms carriers use space platforms made in the US.

As is customary for an Ariane, the latest mission delivered two satellites into orbit.

The second was the AMC-21 spacecraft, a TV and internet platform whose services will be focussed on North and Central America.

The rocket left the ground at 1744 local time (2044 GMT) and released the Superbird-7 just under half-an-hour later, with the AMC-21 following shortly afterwards.

This flight was the fifth Ariane mission of 2008. Two further flights are planned in the coming months – making this year’s schedule the busiest since the vehicle’s commercial introduction in 1999.

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