Oct 09, 2008

Southern Mongolia: Milk Scandal Affecting Vulnerable Farmers

Sample ImageMonitoring of supply chains should be reinforced if producers and consumers of China’s milk products are not to be harmed again. 


Below is an article published by Agence France Presse: 

Farmers in China's large milk-producing region of Inner Mongolia said governmental safety measures taken in the wake of a tainted milk scandal that shocked the world had been rigorous, but apparent flaws remain. 

Trying to eke out a living in a remote village in north China, He Fugong thought he had hit the jackpot when he bought three dairy cows six years ago. 

"Our standard of living improved considerably after we bought the cows," said the thin 66-year-old, echoing the tales of many of the 200 people in dusty Tuoweiziran village who have turned to the dairy business. 

His simple, three-room house, which he shares with his daughter and her husband, is new and he owns the two tractors in the muddy front yard where his cows also sleep. 

His eight-year-old grandson lives and goes to school in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, a two-hour drive south. 

All these perks would have been unheard of six years ago before He bought his cows -- from which he sells milk to Yili, a huge dairy company, earning around 3,000 yuan (440 dollars) a month. 

This, coupled with potato crops that bring in about 1,600 yuan a month, means He is now earning comfortably more than the average Chinese farmer. 

But the tainted milk scandal that emerged in China last month when it was revealed that melamine, an industrial chemical normally used to make plastic, had been found in milk products, has cast a dark cloud over his livelihood. 

"The milk station wouldn't accept our milk for five to six days," said He Liping, his 36-year-old daughter. 

The tainted milk, which has sickened at least 53,000 children and killed four, has had worldwide repercussions as more and more countries have banned or restricted milk products from China. 

Nevertheless, as He settled down to eat potato stew after a morning's work in the fields, he said life was already returning to normal. 

Apart from those few days when the milk station refused to take his product, he said, Yili -- whose dairy products have also been contaminated by melamine -- had continued to buy his milk following strict checks. 

And he insisted that milk industry standards have improved in the years he has been in the business. 

"When we started out, we would milk the cows with our hands and it was not very hygienic," he said. 

Then he got his own milking machine so he could milk the cows at home and deliver the produce to the station. 

In another improvement introduced before the melamine scandal erupted, farmers in the village were required to have their cows milked at the station to make sure the milk was up to standard. 

He said he believed people had added the chemical, which makes watered-down milk appear higher in protein, out of greed rather than financial necessity, and that the farmers were not to blame. 

"I think the melamine issue could have been a problem with management at some milk stations," He said. 

But, he said, despite the improved industry standards and his rising income, life remains extremely tough. 

"Everyday, we get up at five o'clock in the morning," He's daughter said. 

"We take the cows to the milking station at six, and it takes an hour to get there by foot." 

After milking the cows, she and her husband, Li Juncheng, head to the fields to tend their potatoes. 

At 6:00 pm, it is time to take the cows to the station for their second round of milking. 

"We have no time off, not even at weekends," she said. 

General living conditions remain low too, despite the new house. 

The family's toilet is outside their front yard, on a path next to a huge pile of cow manure and they must wash in a communal building in the village.