The Chinese blogosphere is panicking over the tainted milk scandal that has already killed three babies and hospitalised more than 6,000 others. Web users are sceptical about the official government line - that it's the fault of the milk farmers, and not the manufacturing companies.
According to an investigation launched by the authorities last week, 22 companies were marketing milk powder that was contaminated with a toxic chemical called melamine, which had been added to make the products seem richer in protein.
The Zonaeuropa blog reports that police from the Hebei region, where the scandal was exposed, arrested two farmers suspected of providing contaminated milk to dairy companies.
The farmers arrested by the police. Photo posted on China.com.
One of the suspected farms. Photo posted on China.com.
The netizens then found a message from a paediatrician specialised in urinary conditions on the country's official quality control site. The doctor had made a link between babies' milk and a kidney disease that one of his patients died from. The response to his message was simply "contact the health department".
The warning message posted on 31 July by the urologist, on this blog.
The web users went on to question why the authorities were so slow to recall the dangerous products - the decision wasn't made until 12 September. Some Kiwi officials (one of the Chinese companies in trouble is partly owned by a New Zealand firm) even said that the authorities knew for weeks but didn't do anything about it until the New Zealanders intervened.
Another blogger, quoted by Global Voices, talks of a censor that he claims to have been victim to. William Long says that he himself was asked to delete evidence about the subject, that in particular put Sanlu - the first company affected by the scandal - to blame.
There's also talk of internet censorship on the China Smack blog. They published a letter, allegedly sent by Teller, the company that manages Sanlu's press relations. The letter advises the milk company to pay China's best search engine, Baidu, to delete web pages that make any reference to the scandal. Teller says that the document is false, and Baidu says there was no agreement of this kind made with Sanlu. But the denials don't stop the rumours from spreading on the web.
Jean-Loup Allain is secretary-general of the union of child illnesses in France.
This scandal shows that China's quality control systems are not developed well enough. We've already noticed this with other products, like lamps etc.
In European law, it's the company that sells products for children which is held responsible for the quality of those products. They can sue their suppliers, but they're the first ones to blame juridically.
In any case, this scenario would never happen in France because of such strict controls. There only exists a certain number of suppliers for baby products; and these are audited and must respect specifications to obtain their licence. One of the most efficient ways to avoid problems - and I don't know if they have this in place in China - is to check the compatibility of the companies, to make sure that products that have nothing to do with baby products do not find their way into the system."
The Sanlu chairman: "I'm innocent, we bought the milk from the farmer".
The farmer: "Don't look at me - it's the cow who did it".
The cow: “None of my business, I just eat grass”.
The grass: "My mother gave birth to me, my mum is grass"
The local authorities: "We have the criminal - it's the grass's mother!"
The babies: "Who's the grass's mother?"