"Let Me Skin Sanlu Alive"

(Fu Jianfeng's blog)  Let Me Skin Sanlu Alive: The Notes Of A News Editor About The Sanlu Tainted Milk Powder Case.  September 14, 2008.  [Note: The blogger is an editor at Southern Weekend]

[in translation]


Actually, our reporter He Feng had received the information at the end of July that more than 20 babies were hospitalized for kidney stones in Tongji Hospital, Wuhan city, Hubei province as a result of consuming the tainted Sanlu milk powder.  But for reasons that everybody knows, we were not able to investigate the case at that time because harmony was needed everywhere.  As a news editor, I was deeply concerned because I sensed that this was going to be a huge public health catastrophe.  But I could not send any reporters out to investigate.  Therefore, I harbored a deep sense of guilt and defeat at the time.  I tried my best to tell all my friends and acquaintances not to use the Sanlu milk powder.

At the time, our reporter He Feng was already checking out the situations at a number of hospitals in Hubei, Hunan and Jiagxi.  The doctors were highly suspicious that there was a problem with Sanlu.  They reminded every family that came to the hospital with infant problems not to use Sanlu.

At the time, I checked Baidu and all I could find were doubts being raised by some parents about this brand.

We could only wait, wait, wait.


After the Olympics was over, my esteemed colleague He Feng began to investigate.  He went to Hubei, Hunan and Guangdong.  He contacted dozens of parents.  He called many hospitals in many provinces around China.  Finally, he basically confirmed that a causal relationship between Sanlu baby powder and kidney stones in babies could be established.

This investigation took more than ten days.  It was difficult.  Before the investigation, some of the parents in Hunan were paid off by Sanlu to keep quiet.  Many newspapers in Hubei had to stay silent because Sanlu used its connections with the authorities.  Certain local reporters who took part in the investigation were bitter but helpless about the way Sanlu shut the media down.

During the first part of September, I discovered that it was impossible to find negative information about Sanlu on the Baidu search engine.  Later on, the word was that Sanlu spent several million yuan to buy off Baidu.  Then I understood why.

In our investigation, we found out that all the samples of milk powder sent by the local and national Quality Inspection Administration passed in the end.  On one hand, this was perplexing.  On the other hand, it was understandable because Sanlu was one of the products that had been graded "no-inspection-necessary" by the Quality Inspection Administration.  They would be slapping themselves in their faces if they found problems.

During the investigative process, I reminded my colleague He Feng repeatedly to be careful.  If the evidence should be insufficient, we would lost a lawsuit.  I also reminded him that our investigation must be conducted secretly without the Sanlu Company being aware.  As a large corporation, Sanlu has powerful backers.  If they can shut down the Hubei media, they can also shut down something like Southern Weekend.  In order to maintain our objectivity, we can publish the "pass" test results for Sanlu at the same time.  This would be fair, and the public can decide whether the product really passes or not.

During the process, there were many parents who kept asking questions because they want an explanation about the victimization of their children.  There were also many righteous doctors who provided first-hand evidence to our reporter.

But I was extremely disappointed in our relevant government departments.  During our investigation, we discovered that the General Administration for Quality Inspection had come up with "passed" reports in June and July, so that the chances for an alert was missed again and again.  I was also extremely disappointed with the Food and Drug Administration, which did not take any action even though the reports from many doctors indicated that there was an explosion of kidney stones in babies.  The Disease Control Center of our Ministry of Health did not issue an epidemiological alert and it did not conduct any  investigation.  Most of all, I was disappointed and angry at the Sanlu Company for covering up the truth repeatedly and blocking the media so that more than 400 babies were victimized.

We want the truth.  We want to race against time.  We want to remove the doubts about this public health matter.  This was the motivation and belief that impelled me and my colleague He Feng.


On September 12, Xinhua carried the anonymous accusation by the Gansu media against Sanlu.  I realized that we had to report on this matter.  We had to openly challenge Sanlu.  This was the only way to warn the public about the food safety danger.  We had already collected enough information and we were confident regarding the law.

But that does not mean that we could get it published.  On September 13, in spite of repeated attempts by He Feng and I, the report was rejected.  That night, Sanlu was finally forced to admit to the problem of the troubled milk powder and they issued a public recall.  This was somewhat comforting.

On September 14, we posted the report <The difficult path to find the cause of the kidney stones in babies> onto the Southern Weekend website and Southern Metropolis Daily.  This was small compensation because our media alert was repeated prevented from going out.


I did not want to write these things, but I was really angered by Sanlu again.  So I had to write.

At this time, Sanlu is claiming again and again that the source of the contamination of the milk is through the criminal milk cow farmers.  But if the farmers were to pour feces and urine into the milk, will you still put them into the milk powder?  Once you learn about the numerous cases of babies with kidney stones, why were you busy shutting down the media and not issue any warnings?  Why did you only admit that there was a problem when things went beyond control and then you put the blame on the milk cow farmers?

Sanlu also said that the victims ought to go to ask the milk cow farmers for compensation.  This is immoral behavior.  The legal reasoning is very simple: even if the milk cow farmers really did it, the victims should ask compensation from Sanlu, which could then ask the milk cow farmers for compensation.

I also read that the suspects already arrested in Shijiazhuang are unidentified.  Reportedly, they were mostly milk cow farmers.  What kind of investigative logic is it not to look for the real perpetrators and to look for peripheral details to distract the central government and the people of the nation?

I also want to ask just what the State Quality Supervisory Administration has to say about their negligence and cover-up?  I also want to ask the departments under the Ministry of Health how they explain their dereliction of duty?


From another angle, the people in the dairy industry have warned a long ago that there was bound to be trouble.  The vicious competition meant that the dairy industry had to do battle at every stage from the milk source to the final product in a vicious cycle, until Sanlu finally destroyed itself.

If state supervision and industry self-discipline do not work, the devastation would go beyond baby milk powder to reach the entire dairy industry.

Every person who made money by producing fake and inferior stuff thinks that he is ahead of the game, but at the same time he is also hurt by others who are doing the same elsewhere.  We have lost far too heavily already.  We don't want chaotic and unhygienic food.  We don't want an evil-doing market economy.  We want a good market economy.  We want an ethical market economy.












   在这个调查过程中,我一再提醒我的同事禾风,一定要谨慎,如果略有证据不足,就可能给我们引来败诉之祸。我还提醒,我们的调查必须秘密进行,不能让三鹿公司知道。三鹿作为一家大型企业,有极强大的势力,既然有能力封杀湖北媒体,那同样也有能力封杀像南方周末这样的媒体。但为了保持客观,我们可以把三鹿公司 “合格”的检测结果同时登出,这样很公正,真正合不合格,自有公议。