Chinese dairy company under investigation after children pour out free school milk

  • Authorities will look into whether Hunan Xiangmi Dairy falsely presented itself as an authorised supplier to 110,000 pupils
  • It has been barred from supplying products to schools and samples are being tested for quality
PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2018, 4:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 December, 2018, 4:32pm

A dairy company has been placed under investigation and its products are being checked after a video showing pupils in a poor part of central China pouring away milk was circulated on social media.

The national dairy authority will also look into whether Hunan Xiangmi Dairy falsely promoted itself as a government-designated supplier of free school milk, providing drinks to 110,000 students across the county, according to The Beijing News.

On Friday, the company in Longhui county, Hunan province, was barred from supplying its flavoured milk drinks to local schools and Shaoyang city authorities said they were testing samples of its products to check the quality, Shanghai-based news portal Thepaper.cn reported on Sunday.

Footage of pupils from a primary school in an impoverished area in the county tipping the company’s flavoured milk drinks down the drain appeared last week on Weibo, China’s Twitter. Teachers were apparently worried the children might take the milk home and drink it after it had soured, with the school saying most of the children could not finish their milk because it was “too cold”.

But according to The Beijing News report, the company’s certification to provide milk drinks to the school had expired in 2015 – though county officials had given it a contract in August to supply the school until the spring of 2021.

Under a nationwide nutrition campaign, all companies providing milk to schools must be approved by the Dairy Association of China.

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Xiangmi Dairy labels its products as “school milk” on both the packaging and its website, but since the video emerged its site can no longer be accessed.

The company told The Beijing News that its application to be a school milk supplier had been “delayed”. It also said the flavoured milk drinks it had been producing for local schools met nutrition standards.

Footage of the milk being wasted at Luohong Centre Primary School caused uproar on social media. But it was not the only school in the county found throwing away Xiangmi milk, and a security guard from another primary school also took boxes of the milk home, according to Thepaper.cn.

Longhui county authorities have since instructed schools to heat the milk if necessary when the temperature drops below 10 degrees Celsius and said they would buy milk from other authorised suppliers, The Beijing News reported.

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China has been providing free milk to students under a nationwide programme since 2000 – some 20 million children have benefited from the scheme since then, according to state news agency Xinhua.

The programme was started to “advocate milk drinking, improve students’ health and develop the dairy business”, according to a Chinese report to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2006.

Yet the scheme has sparked controversy and food safety scares. In May, Xiao county officials in Anhui province caused outrage when they asked teachers to drink the school milk – produced by a different dairy company – before giving it to students, to make sure it was safe to drink. The local education department quickly put a stop to the plan, saying the move was prompted by the discovery of bloated milk cartons in December last year.

While schools in rural and poor areas receive subsidies to buy milk from selected vendors, a 2017 report from the China Consumers Association said some parents had complained about rising prices and that they were forced to order the drink for their children even if they showed signs of lactose intolerance such as bloating, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps.