Sanlu lobbied officials to cover up milk scandal
A spokesman for the government of the Hebei city where disgraced dairy firm Sanlu is based said the company had lobbied municipal authorities to cover up the company's milk contamination, delaying the first news reports of the scandal.
In an interview with the People's Daily, Shijiazhuang spokesman Wang Jianguo said the Sanlu Group had asked the city government as early as August 2 to help 'manage' negative news reports that melamine in its milk powder products had made infants ill.
Sanlu also asked the government to investigate dairy farmers, and the government 'immediately acted to solve the issues Sanlu raised' by sending police to check on milk collection stations and dairy farmers.
In attempting to explain the delay in the public release of the information, Mr Wang said the government had received a report from Sanlu that 'it suspected melamine-contaminated milk powder had caused kidney stones and sickened infants'.
In the report, Sanlu 'suspected the melamine was from milk procured from illegal dairy farmers'.
'Sanlu petitioned the government to help solve two problems, including tightening the control of and co-ordination with the media to create a sound environment for the enterprise to recall the products and avoid serious negative impacts,' he said.
Authorities have been dogged by accusations that the scandal, which broke last month, was covered up to avoid overshadowing the Olympics. The rumour was bolstered by a weblog in which an editor of the respected Southern Weekly newspaper said reporters had long known of the scandal but were gagged by authorities and bribed by Sanlu.
Fu Jianfeng said in his September 14 blog entry, which has since been deleted, that as early as July one of his reporters was investigating how milk powder may have been responsible for children falling seriously ill. 'I sensed this was going to be a huge public health disaster,' he said. 'But I couldn't send any reporters to investigate.'
Mr Fu said yesterday neither he nor the reporter could comment.
An editor from a mainland newspaper said he had been ordered by the Communist Party's Publicity Department to 'only play up positive news' about how authorities had handled probes of the scandal.