PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 September, 2008, 12:00am

Milk scandal points to poor quality feed

The rise in the number of children adversely affected by melamine added to milk powder is of great concern to all.

However, the presence of the melamine points to a fundamental problem in the dairy industry on the mainland.

It will be impossible to solve this problem overnight and may take up to a year to eliminate it.

What is the problem? The presence of the melamine and the scandal of the nutrient-poor baby milk powder from several years ago points to the milk production system being at fault.

The quality of milk is assessed on a wide range of parameters that include bacteriological quality, chemical composition, chemical contaminants and the presence of somatic cells from the cow.

Standards for milk stipulate that there be certain minimum levels of fat, protein and a component called solids-not-fat.

This last component includes lactose which usually remains relatively constant, and protein.

The level of fat and protein in milk is mainly influenced by what the cow eats, among other factors.

The fact that the milk being produced on mainland dairy farms is low in protein means that the cows are not being properly fed. In modern dairy practice careful attention must be paid to the nutrition of the cows and ample energy and protein must be a part of the diet of the cows.

These feed components are not cheap.

A further possible factor contributing to the problem is mastitis which is due to bacterial infections in the cows' udders.

An active infection results in decreased protein levels.

The condition of cows must be built up by giving the cows good quality feed. It will take time for the cows to produce milk with higher protein levels. In the meantime milk may need to be sourced from other countries.

Desmond O'Toole, adjunct professor, department of biology and chemistry, City University of Hong Kong

A wake-up call on food safety

The tainted-milk scandal raises general concern about food safety on the mainland.

I think it is important for the central government to take effective action to deal with this problem.

Once the scandal was exposed and it was clear that thousands of babies were affected, people, including foreign visitors, began to have doubts about the safety of other food products.

It raised questions, once again, about the quality of the Made-in-China label.

The government must now overhaul the system and introduce effective regulations so that the food industry in the country is supervised properly.

There must be a system in place that enables thorough checks of food products to take place, so that any harmful ingredients that have been added to boost profits, are detected.

The ingredients of any item should be clearly stated on the label, so that consumers know what they are buying.

There should be a dedicated department which has the task of inspecting all food products thoroughly, including milk formula, to see if there has been any contamination.

It is also important for the authorities to be vigilant and try to curb the black market, which can lead to illegal products going on sale.

Finally, the government must take consumers' complaints seriously.

The mainland dairy group Sanlu first received complaints in March, but there were delays in reporting the problem, partly caused by the Olympic Games.

Because of delays more infants became ill.

What has happened has highlighted the need for the government to take responsibility for protecting its citizens.

Above all, it should serve as a wake-up call for the leadership in Beijing and they must act decisively to deal with the problem of food safety on the mainland.

Jenny Tin, Wong Tai Sin

No mention of breastfeeding

I have read many articles about the tainted baby formula scandal.

I have not seen it mentioned that if these babies had been breastfed they would be fine.

All I see in articles is that people on the mainland are struggling to buy imported formula.

Baby formula is a rather silly product since it poorly replaces breast milk which occurs naturally and is of a much higher quality. Breast milk is nutritious, safe and much cheaper to provide to infants.

In both the mainland and Hong Kong, there seems to be a real lack of desire to breastfeed infants.

Why isn't it encouraged more by doctors and local health authorities? Maybe this scandal will convince mothers they should breastfeed their babies.

William Proudfit, Discovery Bay

Maternity fees discriminatory

I wish to add my voice against the discriminatory and ill-conceived policy of the Hospital Authority to charge HK$39,000 for maternity fees for 'non-residents'.

Readers should note that any woman holding a Hong Kong identity card is not subject to the inflated fee. That woman can be a Filipino domestic helper or a recently arrived woman from England whose husband happens to work in Hong Kong.

Mainland women married to Hong Kong men, as a result of government policies, however must wait several years to have right of residence in Hong Kong. This policy has created a loophole for the authority to discriminate against mainland wives.

I pay my taxes and expect my family to have the right to enjoy the same government services that others do. My decision to marry either a Hong Kong, English or mainland woman should not affect that right.

Darren Chan, Central

Thai 'mob' was middle class

Peter Lok ('Radicals' win spells mob rule', September 22) may claim himself an expert in Hong Kong politics, but his understanding of international affairs appears to be lacking.

The 'mob' that was involved in ousting Thai prime minister Samak Sundaravej was supported by the sophisticated elite and middle-class in Bangkok, while Mr Samak had found his power base in the more populist rural areas.

So if there is anyone who had made 'a mockery of the democratic due process' in the Thai case, it is the educated and the professionals.

For this reason, who can say for sure that the mob is monopolised by the radicals from the grass roots? Who can say for sure that the elite class, of which Mr Lok has been known to be a firm supporter, will never destabilise a society?

I suspect that the more worrying issue in Hong Kong is not the mob, but that the city could be run by someone who claims to be from the elite but lacks insight and vision. I do not know if Mr Lok belongs to this group of people.

Raymond Lai, Quarry Bay

Other options

I refer to the letter by Peter Lok ('Radicals' win spells mob rule' September 22).

May I respectfully suggest to Mr Lok that if he is truly worried about the election of 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung and Wong Yuk-man, he should move to Myanmar or Tibet.

There, the governments have no problem with 'putting their foot down' whenever the people have the nerve to take to the streets for 'trivial things' like a desire for democracy or higher living standards.

Gabriel Ng, The Peak