Ma Ying-jeou’s use of this toxic milk crisis (update)
The other day, I blogged about how Ma’s government changed Melamine permissible standard from 0ppm to 2.5ppm right after the Chinese government denied any problem with products from Duqing and how they lied about the lack of ability to conduct more sophisticated tests, telling the public that 2.5ppm was EU standard without mentioning that EU has completely banned milk products from China.
On 1 October, DoH Minister, Yeh, Chin-chuan, announced that from now on, all tests will only confirm the presence or absence of Melamine, using LC/MS-MS method. LC/MS-MS can detect as far as 0.05ppm. However, when dug a bit deeper, it was realised that Yeh has refused to clarify the level of precision and the exact lab procedures that will be used when running tests. In other words, they could still use the more advanced methods but set it a loose standard. Please note that this LC/MS-MS method was actually one of those they told the public they were not capable of when they announced the 2.5ppm standard a few days ago. He also announced that the proportion of imported milk powder, baby formula and creamers from ‘high risk’ countries undergoing random checks will increase from 5% to 20% but refused to say which countries would be considered ‘high risk’. Please note that this LC/MS-MS plus 20% random checks standard actually doesn’t apply to any food products other than the three listed above. In other words, it doesn’t apply to biscuits or drinks.
Earlier, the government claimed that Food Industry Research & Development Institute (FIRDI) could only use HPLC methods, which could detect as far as 2ppm. On 2 October, the brilliant Talking Show host, Mr Cheng, Hung-Yi, found the Technical Services Manual, the 2008 version, from FIRDI’s own website, which says that they are actually capable of using GC/MS methods (can detect as far as 0.002ppm). This method is actually the testing standard used by the EU. Critics wonder whether FIRDI was under political pressure to keep this quiet. In case this gets delete or altered, I have downloaded the pdf file.
This argument over ppm and test methods probably looks a bit boring but I am trying to highlight how Ma’s government is using deception to get away with it. Taipei Times has an article on the standard and analysis methods as well. There are actually other things in Yeh’s announcement and Liu and Yeh’s responses to MPs’ questions that are also important, if not more important.
Let’s go back a few days. On 27th September, 7 officials, led by Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) vice secretary-general, Chang Shu-ti, travelled to China to ‘broaden understanding of this milk scandal’: a heavily criticised move. Ma Ying-jeou proposed to set up a direct line for to the Chinese authority for such cases. When the delegation was in China, they attended meetings held by the Chinese government. However, they did not visit any farms or factories, did not know whether milk production was safe again or discuss the discrepancies in Taiwan’s and China’s findings on Duqing products even though a representative from Duqing was in the same meeting. Shiao, Mei-ling told journalists that they were not there to discuss ‘individual cases’.
On 29th September, Yeh announced that the two sides established contact windows for emergency notification regarding food safety and will continue to keep communication channels open. Both sides will continue to discuss how to ensure the accuracy and transparency of relevant information and establish a mechanism for food trade in order to ensure food health and safety. He said that Premier Liu instructed him to use the channels to clarify whether those products from Duqing (imported by King Car) were really contaminated.
Well, the main purpose of SEF is working on direct communications with their Chinese counterpart. Why do we need a separate one for food safety? No other countries send delegation to China. Their strategy is simple: sticking to their own standard and banning Chinese milk products until China gets their act together. This way, China has to get it right until buyers can trust them again. Taiwan should do the same. Besides, the Chinese government has never been upfront about anything. They always try to cover up by any means until they absolutely can’t like SARS, Bird Flu, pet food and this toxic milk scandal. Why should Taiwan rely on China’s good will again, especially on health and safety issues?
When answering questions in the Parliament, Liu said that he would demand an apology from China but only after being pushed hard by a DPP MP, Li, Jun-Yi. Liu also said that the special channel set up this time will be used to determine standards that can be accepted by people on both sides. Ma’s government is quietly pushing through a mechanism where all Chinese products which pass their own test will be accepted as safe by the Taiwanese authority without further checks. This is ridiculous! Why should Taiwan accept the Chinese standard? (Please see the current Chinese practice.) No country will take another country’s test reports without any random checks or their own standards. China ‘s poisoned dumplings passed China’s tests and were sold to Japan and Sanlu’s products were exempted from routine checks by the Chinese authority when they were found to contain Melamine. These prove that passing the Chinese authority’s test doesn’t mean anything!!
This sums up what Ma Ying-jeou has been trying to do all along – annexing Taiwan to China by stealthily integrating Taiwan into the Chinese system first and giving the impression that Taiwan is becoming part of China to the international community. Critics also suspect that China, again, is going to use this meeting and the direct channels as proof that they are indeed looking after Taiwanese and as a result, Taiwan is going to be the one losing out on their WHO movement.
Apart from the fact that China has never looked after Taiwan’s welfare (they delayed informing Taiwan about the Bird Flu in Thailand for eight days) and has 1400 missiles aiming at Taiwan, China can’t even look after their own people (including babies) properly. So, not that many Taiwanese are feeling particularly warm about the idea of getting closer to China. Over 80% of Taiwanese are unhappy with the way Ma’s government deal with this crisis.
Along with people’s lack of confidence in Ma’s ability, fear and anger of losing Taiwan’s sovereignty and Ma’s arrogance in his response to outcries from people, there may be more and larger protests in future to express dissatisfaction and/or demand Ma to step down.