Quality must be controlled
Updated: 2011-12-29 07:58
One of China's largest milk producers, Mengniu Dairy Co Ltd, is embroiled in yet another food safety scare.
Tests by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) of fresh milk products produced at Mengniu's Meishan plant in Sichuan province found levels of a potentially cancer-causing toxin were more than double the national standard.
Even though the company based in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region apologized to consumers on its website immediately after the scandal, its reputation - and the reputation of China's whole dairy industry - has taken another heavy blow.
In fact, Mengniu's response has simply added fuel to the fire, as the company conveniently attributed the high levels of aflatoxin M1 to mildewed feed given to cows on its Sichuan rangeland.
But the AQSIQ's test results show that Mengniu's quality monitoring has failed completely, as unlike melamine, aflatoxin M1 has long been part of China's quality tests for dairy products.
In its 2010 annual report Mengniu boasts that each pack of its milk goes through nine processes, 36 monitoring stages and 105 tests before sales, and each carton of milk from the company carries quality information for every stage of the production process.
Unfortunately the latest scandal suggests all these rest-assured claims are nothing more than empty promises.
Mengniu has been rapidly expanding. Its annual sales in 2010 grew by 17 percent year-on-year to more than 30 billion yuan ($4.74 billion). But the company executives need to remain cautious and alert during this fast development, because any more quality scandals will almost certainly undo all their hard work.
The former Hebei-based Sanlu Group, a former dairy giant, collapsed in 2008 and its executives were imprisoned after the notorious melamine scandal in 2008, in which six babies died and thousands more fell seriously ill.
The current scandal should serve as a reminder to the industry that milk producers are responsible for the quality of their products, and this means carefully monitoring every stage of production, from rangeland management to storage and transportation.
Instead of looking for excuses, Mengniu should take this scandal as a warning to take concrete actions to strengthen its quality control.
Consumers' tolerance of food safety issues is wearing ever more thin and Mengniu's reputation is unlikely to survive another scandal.
(China Daily 12/29/2011 page8)