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Melamine scandal hits dairy farmers   2008-10-08 - TN, TT

Dairy shops along a street in Hanoi’s Ba Vi District, famous for its fresh milk products, were closed this week, with no buyers in sight.  
Consumers have been shunning milk products, leaving farmers carrying the can.



Northern dairy farmers have been dumping tons of milk every day in the wake of the melamine scare, which has slowed milk sales across the nation.

Six months ago Bui Thi Thuy borrowed money to buy two cows worth VND28 million (US$1,680) each, after seeing her neighbors make good profits as dairy farmers.

But just when the cows started to give milk, China’s tainted milk scandal broke, sending ripples throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

“I don’t know what to do to pay my debts if I can’t sell the milk,” Thuy said.

There are now about 500 families in Phu Dong Village who share Thuy’s plight. Every day, unable to find buyers, they have been dumping about 1.5 tons of milk into the nearby Duong River.

“Although we know it pollutes the environment, we don’t know where else to dump the milk,” Hoang Trong Nguyen, head of a village dairy cooperative, said. “If we keep it inside the village, it will stink and make us sick.”

Nguyen said 75 percent of the milk produced in the district used to be purchased by Hanoimilk. But the company has cut purchase and the district farmers, most of whom have no contracts, are left to face their difficulties alone.

“Farmers can’t sell milk but they have to continue milking their cows, otherwise the cows will get sick,” Nguyen said.

Vu Van Thuc, a dealer who owns the largest milk station in Phu Dong Village, said every day many farmers queued in front of his station, waiting for a chance to pour their milk into the station tank.

The unlucky farmers, who miss out on selling to Thuc, have to take their milk home, either using it to feed their pigs or dumping it.

Thuc said he had 4.5 tons of milk in stock and so may have to stop buying milk from farmers.

Nguyen Nhu Tam, another dealer in Vinh Phuc Province’s Yen Lac District, said his dairy station used to buy 4 tons of milk from farmers and resell it to Hanoimilk. But he closed the station on Monday, after being forced to dump VND70 million (US$4,215) worth of milk.

“At first, I gave away the milk to other people. Then everyone became tired of it,” he said.

Do Nhu Be, chairman of the People’s Committee of Yen Lac District’s Trung Nguyen Commune, said local dairy farmers were caught unprepared by the milk scandal.

“When we saw Chinese farmers dumping their milk on television, we thought it was their problem,” he said. “But the ‘melamine storm’ struck here too fast.”

The Ministry of Health announced last Thursday melamine had been found in Hanoimilk’s Full Cream Milk Powder Grade A and Blue Cow full cream milk powder used for UHT (ultra heat treated) milk. On Monday, the ministry said another three Hanoimilk products were tainted with the chemical.

Melamine, a chemical compound used in the manufacture of plastic, makes milk appear rich in protein but also causes kidney problems. No national or international authority has approved the use of melamine for human consumption.

In China, melamine-tainted milk and baby formula has left 53,000 children ill and four dead.

Last week, Hanoimilk’s chairman Tran Dang Tuan told Thanh Nien the company would cut its purchase of raw milk from farmers to around 10 tons per day.

Deputy chairman of the company, Dinh Van Thinh, said Hanoimilk used to be the country’s third largest dairy company with daily sales of VND1.5 billion ($90,744). “The melamine scandal has reduced the company’s daily sales to some hundreds of millions of dong,” he said.

Like Hanoimilk, Anco Foods Company has also announced a reduction in milk purchases from farmers. With the recent sales slump caused by the melamine scare, only half of the 1.5 tons of milk it buys from farmers every day is used for production while the rest is given away or discarded.

Meanwhile, several other dairy companies said they are considering buying more milk from farmers to help share their difficulties.

International Dairy Product Company, for example, has promised to increase its purchase of fresh milk from farmers in Hanoi’s Ba Vi District by 40 percent, company chief executive Nguyen Tuan Khai said.

Vinamilk’s Vuong Ngoc Long said the company was in the process of creating a plan to help northern farmers.

However, as Vinamilk alone cannot buy all the surplus milk, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development should order large dairy companies to purchase the milk from farmers together, he suggested.

According to a statement on the government website Tuesday, the ministry’s Animal Husbandry Bureau has asked dairy companies to try their best to buy all of the milk that farmers have produced.

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