Some Web users are calling for a nationwide boycott of products from Mengniu Dairy Group, one of China's biggest dairy producers, after some of the company's products were found to be contaminated with a cancer-causing substance.
The level of Aflatoxin M1 - a substance that can cause severe liver damage including liver cancer - in a batch of milk produced by Mengniu's Meishan branch in Sichuan Province on October 18 was more than double the nation's permitted level, according to an unnamed official at the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
Mengniu said in a statement posted on its website over the weekend that it had destroyed the contaminated batch, which it claimed had not been shipped out of its factory. However, the statement failed to quell public anger at the latest in a long line of milk safety scares in China.
Late on Monday, a Web user posted a picture on the Internet showing Mengniu milk he bought that was produced on October 18, accusing the company of letting contaminated products enter the market.
Wang Xiaoshan, a columnist, published a microblog post calling for Web users to boycott all Mengniu products. He asked those in favor of the idea to repost his message. By 9 pm yesterday, it had been reposted more than 31,000 times.
Lu Jianjun, Mengniu's vice president, explained that among the many batches produced on October 18, the only batch found to be contaminated was destroyed in the factory. He attempted to reassure the public by saying "all Mengniu products on the market are safe."
Lu told the Global Times yesterday that consumer anger was "understandable."
"The incident was inappropriate for any enterprise. It caused misunderstandings among consumers. We made public the information about the contaminated products in a responsible manner. I believe the majority of consumers will finally draw an objective conclusion on the issue," Lu said.
Earlier, Mengniu said mildewed feed given to cows caused the excessive Aflatoxin M1 levels, but added that it had not yet identified the source of the mildewed feed.
The incident comes just as China's rapidly growing but fragmented dairy industry is attempting to win back consumers' confidence after a series of scandals involving milk tainted with toxic substances.
In 2008, at least six children died and nearly 300,000 became ill from powdered milk laced with melamine, an industrial chemical added to low quality or diluted milk.
"Before the 2008 scandal, domestic dairy producers had around 60 percent of the milk powder segment, with the remainder belonging to foreign companies. This has changed," Wang Dingmian, chairman of the Guangzhou Dairy Industry Association, told the Southern Metropolis Daily.
Wang said China imported 247,000 tons of milk powder in 2009 and over 400,000 tons in 2010, up sharply from less than 150,000 tons in 2008.