Shanghai, Guangzhou media spearhead “bad egg” coverage

By David BandurskiCMP wrote Monday about China’s emerging egg products scandal and how it was shaping up in China’s media, including an initial reluctance to pursue questions about Dalian Hanwei Enterprise Group, the company, run by a powerful entrepreneur, whose products were recalled in Hong Kong over the weekend.

Coverage on Tuesday showed greater aggressiveness, with 52 separate news reports in mainland media mentioning Hanwei in coverage dealing variously with recalls in Hong Kong and related questions.

A story on page A08 of yesterday’s Southern Metropolis Daily — the whole page was devoted to “bad eggs” — reported that Hanwei’s “Ha Ha Da” brand of chicken eggs was being “pulled from shelves” (下架) in Guangzhou, and that a Hanwei press conference was scheduled for later on in the day.

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[ABOVE: Page A08 of yesterday's Southern Metropolis Daily]

Shanghai’s Wen Hui Bao quoted a city food inspection official as saying they were already watching events closely, but that melamine testing had not yet been designated as a regular procedural test to be conducted on local egg supplies. The paper also mentioned that the national Ministry of Agriculture was in the process of carrying out tests for “problem eggs” (问题鸡蛋).

Much of the coverage from local newspapers, however, consisted of boilerplate reassurances to local consumers that their eggs were safe because melamine “had not yet been found.”

From Yantai: “Melamine eggs not found in the city limits

From Chongqing: “Melamine not found in Chongqing eggs

From Shunde: “Shunde markets have not seen ‘problem eggs’ made in Dalian

These reports were not suggesting, however, that tests had already been conducted on local eggs and had found no melamine, but simply that eggs from Dalian were not being sold locally.

Up to now, Dalian Hanwei and officials in Dalian seem to be trying to stem the fallout from the scandal by pushing the message that the egg problem is confined to Hong Kong. Even as Hanwei produced eggs were being pulled from shelves in Guangzhou yesterday, the Nanfang Daily quoted a Hanwei spokesperson in Beijing as saying Hanwei’s “Ha Ha Da” brand of eggs was selling normally in the capital.

News today clearly points to a much more widespread problem, with high levels of melamine found in eggs from Hubei and Zhejiang provinces.

Some of the hardest hitting coverage both yesterday and today came from the New Business Daily (每日经济新闻), a newspaper from Shanghai that launched four years ago. The newspaper had a relatively low profile until it underwent a re-launch in May this year.

Reports on the melamine scandal by New Business Daily point to what is beginning to look like a new trend in China’s media — the emergence of scrappier media in usually conservative Shanghai.

It was Shanghai’s Oriental Daily that stepped out of the shadows of strict control last month to report on contaminated milk produced by Sanlu Group. And the New Business Daily has complemented strong reporting on the egg scandal from Guangdong media over the last two days.

The reporter on the egg scandal for the New Business Daily is Zhang Juanjuan (张娟娟).

In her news story yesterday, “Asking China’s largest egg producer: who’s responsible for ‘poison’ eggs?”, Zhang summed up news from Hong Kong and interviewed Hong Kong experts about possible sources of contamination. Zhang also spoke to personnel at Hanwei in Dalian who explained, as though to reassure consumers, that the Park ‘n Shop brand distributed in Hong Kong was not sold on the mainland.

But how can anyone be sure that the eggs being marketed under these different brands are not in fact produced at the same facility or under the same conditions?

In a report today, Zhang attempts to determine exactly where problems at Hanwei occurred, and how its supply chains might have been affected.

For readers of Chinese, here is a flow chart provided by the New Business Daily today that raises the question of where contamination occurred and whether the same contaminated egg supplies might have ended up in both the Hong Kong and mainland markets under different brands.

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The editor’s note for Zhang’s story goes straight for the attack, after a headline asking why Hanwei is still “silent”:

Eggs, like milk, are something ordinary people eat perhaps every day. It has been four days since melamine was found in [Park 'n Shop] “Select” eggs, and yet the producer who supplies these eggs, Dalian Hanwei Enterprise Group, had not yet, up to the dealine of this article last night, made any sort of public statement whatsoever about the “poison egg” affair. And while relevant government departments are carrying out investigations, the results of these investigations are dragging on and not being made public.

Hanwei has, of course, spoken to Hong Kong media and issued an apology, as the South China Morning Post reported yesterday:

The head of the mainland company that supplied melamine-tainted eggs to Hong Kong apologised last night and said the firm shouldered all responsibility.

Han Wei, of the Hanwei Group in Dalian , who claimed they had never used melamine in their products, said he was shocked and distressed by the incident.

“We solemnly apologise to consumers and distributors. We solemnly state here that my company had never purchased melamine or added melamine to feeds or products.”

But the apology from Hanwei seems to be explicitly addressed to Hong Kong consumers, and does not answer questions about how Hanwei’s eggs are produced and supplied on the mainland. At least four mainland newspapers reported the Hanwei apology today, three stating explicitly that this was “to Hong Kong media.” Here is a newscast from local television in Shanghai reporting similarly on the apology.

The editor’s note for Zhang Juanjuan’s story continues:

Concern about “poison eggs” is understandable. If a company that has been called “China’s largest egg enterprise” has problems, people naturally want to ask: whose eggs can we eat?

And of course the most critical part in answering this question is get a clear idea of how these “poison eggs” were contaminated.

How large is the area of contamination? In this age of modern information, the bar of “crisis management” expectations placed on companies has been raised. It doesn’t solve anything to cover up the problem. Only through honesty and transparency, and the quickest possible reporting of the truth, can the damage be minimized.

When “Select” brand of China’s largest egg producing enterprise, Dalian Hanwei Enterprise Group, tested positive for melamine contamination in Hong Kong, this drew a lot of attention. This group’s “Ha Ha Da” brand of eggs has a large market share on the mainland — are these eggs contaminated with melamine too? Where is the root of the problem of “poison eggs”? Is this an isolated example, or a harbinger of crisis throughout the egg products industry?

Yesterday, our New Business Daily reporter went to Dalian to carry out her own investigation, and up to the time this report was filed, Hanwei was still silent.

Portions of Zhang Juanjuan’s investigation follow:

An official from the Feed Office of Dalian’s Rural Affairs Committee (大连市农委饲料办) told this reporter that the office had already submitted a report on the incident [of egg contamination] to the propaganda office of the Dalian Party Committee for unified release. So how did melamine get into chicken eggs? This official says he believes it is not very probable that melamine was added directly to eggs, but that the “possibility could not be ruled out” that chicken feed had been contaminated.

The reporter then went to the propaganda office of the Dalian Party Committee, where the person in charge confirmed that they had already received the report [from the rural affairs committee] but that they could not determine whether it would be released, or when and how, without first obtaining approval from central government offices, seeing as this was an uncommon food safety incident.

Apparently, after the Sanlu milk powder scandal broke, government authorities in Dalian began to intensify inspection of food products within the city and to test random samples, and milk and eggs products passed inspection. But what it difficult to explain is that the eggs tested in Hong Kong and found to contain melamine were manufactured by Hanwei on September 6, and were exported on September 10 after passing inspection by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine . . .

The propaganda office said that as the “Ha Ha Da” and [Park 'n Shop] “Select” egg brands were separate brands produced under the banner of Hanwei, “Ha Ha Da” eggs continued to be sold as normal on the Dalian market, and there had been no products removals. But we are hearing that Guangzhou, Changchun, Shanghai and other areas are removing “Ha Ha Da” brand eggs from the shelves.

We highly recommend that readers of Chinese have a look at the full text of Zhang’s investigation here.

FURTHER READING:
Eggs recalled, exports halted as China’s food crisis worsens,” AFP, October 30, 2008

UPDATED LINKS, OCTOBER 31, 2008:
China, after dumplings row, sniffs at Japan sauces,” Reuters, October 31, 2008
China turns to fixing system as toxic milk eases,” Reuters, October 31, 2008
Report: China’s animal feed tainted with melamine,” Associated Press, October 31, 2008
More lawsuits filed over tainted milk in China,” New York Times, October 30, 2008

[Posted by David Bandurski, October 29, 2008, 5:12pm HK]

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