Enforcing Product Safety in China: The Death Penalty vs. Supply Chain Visibility

We began covering the China melamine in powdered milk scandal back in November of 2008. At that time, according to a WSJ report last week, Chinese "Dairy farmers and milk traders started adding melamine-laced powder to raw milk in an effort to fool dairy-company quality checks. Melamine, which is high in nitrogen, mimics the presence of protein in some lab tests." And this unconscionable practice "killed six children and sickened about 300,000 others in 2008". The Chinese “Courts [subsequently] imposed harsh penalties on people involved [and] two were executed in November [2009]." End of story? Tragically not.

The Journal currently reports that "Chinese authorities say they are trying to track down nearly 100 tons of milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical melamine as the government struggles to prevent a recurrence of the large-scale milk contamination ... in 2008." And while death penalty debates involve a plethora of ethical, philosophical, moral and even economic issues, it would appear -- at least in this case -- to have not been a deterrent. Incredibly, according to the article "local police say they believe the melamine-laced milk powder they have [recently] discovered was recalled after it was found to be contaminated in 2008 and then repackaged and sold again."

The global food supply chain is increasingly intertwined and cases like these are never isolated to a single geography. We will never eradicate unadulterated mercenary greed but we can influence its tragic consequences. Government, corporations and consumers must be eternally vigilant about supply risk and ingredient traceability. The technology exists to have ever increasing visibility into the practices of lower-tier suppliers and must be employed to mediate the consequences of both accidental and psychopathic violations that sicken and take the lives of the end customer.

William Busch

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