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China’s leaders eat pure food as babies die

Posted by Author on September 29, 2008

Michael Sheridan, Far East Correspondent , The Times Online, UK, September 28, 2008-

CHINA’S children may be dying from tainted milk but the country’s leaders are dining on pure organic ingredients. Like the emperors of old, the new communist elite enjoy the finest produce from all over China, sourced by a high-security government department.

The revelation has provoked anger among the public and embarrassment for the leadership as it battles a food scandal that has further damaged the country’s reputation.

Chinese milk products have been banned by the European Union and the state media have admitted that one child in 20 in Shanghai may now have kidney damage as a result of drinking contaminated formula milk.

No such peril lies in wait, however, for the members of China’s political elite.

Their diet includes beef from cattle that have grazed on the pesticide-free pastures of inner Mongolia and fish from the crystalline rivers and lakes of Hubei province in central China. They dine on rice that costs 15 times the price of the ordinary grain; as well it might, being grown on the slopes of a mountain near North Korea and irrigated by clear waters from melting snows.

They sip tea brewed with the most delicate leaves from lofty plantations on the fringe of the Tibetan plateau. It costs more than £100 a pound.

The task of selecting the best falls to a body known as the State Council Central Government Bureau Special Food Supply Centre. It caters for the dietary needs of the senior leaders such as President Hu Jintao who, foreign diplomats say, is a diabetic.

“To care for the health of elderly officials, we consider healthy food a special task,” said Zhu Yonglan, the centre’s director, in a recent speech.

“For security we insist food is approved by scientists for no contamination or chemical additives and there must be a quality audit right down the food chain to the provider.”

The text of Zhu’s speech was removed from a biotech company website hours after the People’s Daily published a denial that either the centre or Zhu existed. “That news is fabricated,” it said.

Bloggers then published its address at 12 Dongtu Road, in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, named the police-owned farms that it used, and said it supplied 94 individual officials.

The centre was set up in 2004 after a spate of tragic incidents revealing that China’s food chain is fraught with danger. Poisoned dumplings exported to Japan, fish laden with carci-nogens, counterfeit rice spirit that makes the drinker go blind – the average Chinese consumer has endured them all.

In this latest scandal, at least 13,000 children are in hospital and three babies have died after drinking formula milk containing melamine, a chemical that can cause kidney damage. It is added illegally to watered-down raw milk to increase its protein content.

Twenty-two Chinese dairies are implicated and milk sales have fallen sharply. Chinese milk and products containing it, such as cakes and biscuits, have been banned or recalled from many countries.

So far the authorities have taken more than 7,000 tons of suspect products off shelves, arrested 18 people and sacked seven government officials.

The Communist party propaganda machine has gone into full damage control mode. Xin-hua, the state news agency, last week praised western-style public relations and “brand crisis management” for restoring public confidence.

The Chinese public appeared to be more sceptical in its uncensored online response to the news. One blogger complained: “In China tigers are made of paper and milk powder is made of poison but high officials have their own food supplies and that’s why they don’t really care about safety.” China has sacked its police chief and deputy governor in Tibet six months after riots by Tibetans embarrassed the government and led to worldwide protest ahead of the Olympic Games.

– The Times Online: China’s elite eat pure food as babies die

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