Milk push condemned in wake of poisonings

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 12:00am

Ministries are asking for trouble by promoting specific brands, says paper

The Ministries of Health and Agriculture were severely criticised yesterday for recommending soya milk drinks to pupils in the wake of a series of poisonings.

In an uncharacteristic attack on the central government, the official China Youth Daily said the ministries were asking for trouble by implementing a nationwide scheme recommending specific brands of soya milk to parents of pupils.

The national milk scheme was launched in November 2000 with the aim of providing nutritious drinks to pupils after a survey found a third of the country's students were below the average international height.

The newspaper said the scale of the programme meant the cost of the milk was kept low, but it substantially increased risks.

'By officially approving [specific brands of soya milk] on such a massive scale, [the government is risking] unthinkable consequences if the procedures were to be manipulated by terrorists, or bitter competitors,' said the China Youth Daily article.

The poisoning in March of at least 2,500 pupils in Haicheng, Liaoning province, was not the only example of the problem. Last September, 6,000 pupils in northeastern Jilin province fell sick after drinking soya milk. Also that month, more than 100 people fell ill in Yibin, Sichuan province, and a number of pupils in 17 schools in Lingyuan, Liaoning province.

Yesterday's article followed an announcement by the Liaoning Education Department that it would be withdrawing from all milk schemes. The order was confirmed by both the Liaoning Education Department and the government in Haicheng.

But Haicheng, where the latest soya milk poisoning took place, did not belong to the scheme.

Xinhua said the Haicheng government had withdrawn from the scheme because it preferred students to consume locally produced soya milk.

In a separate commentary, Xinhua blasted the Haicheng government for failing to report the incident, which occurred on March 19, to the central government until April 7, Xinhua said.