Mexican authorities blame Venezuelan authorities for not verifying the quality of the products included in the combos for the Local Supply and Production Committee (CLAP). Even though the companies provided false information on the packaging, they wash their hands with bureaucratic technicalities and continue granting export permits. In Venezuela, no official wants to talk about it. For months, the Government of Nicolás Maduro bought and distributed among the poorest several powdered milk brands of the lowest quality.
In Mexico, they wash their hands. Although Venezuelan organizations authorized several companies to export the milk consumed by Venezuelans through the Local Supply and Production Committee (CLAP), the program that Nicolás Maduro devised to sell subsidized food to the poorest, the Mexican authorities disregard questions about the poor quality of the product and blame Venezuela for not requiring the merchandise analysis.
When Maduro's plan was taking off and becoming the only option for many Venezuelans to purchase staple foods in a hyperinflationary and shortage economy, the Federal Commission for the Protection Against Sanitary Risks (Cofepris) - the control and consumer protection agency in Mexico -, received an avalanche of applications for licenses to send milk powder to Venezuela and other of the eleven products included in the CLAP box.
In 2017, in the headquarters of Cofepris in the state of Nuevo Leon alone, a region that concentrates exporters and numerous suppliers of CLAPs, this institution approved 33 "Free Sale Export Certificates," 32 more than in 2016. Of those approved last year, 26 were aimed for milk powder, 24 of which for Deshidratados Alimenticios e Industriales (DAI), responsible for the Macleche brand, one of the most sold in the government food combos last year.
Emilio Jacques Rivera, head of Cofepris in Nuevo León, explains that part of the job is to visit the companies to verify the information they provide. However, he admits that "sometimes, the results of an analyzed product differ just because the analysis is made with an hour or a day apart." That difference alone could explain that such a poor-quality milk has arrived in Venezuela to be consumed by the poorest.
Cofepris representatives went twice to the DAI address. April 28, 2017, was the last time, as admitted by the official. "Two samples were taken and all the results were normal," he said when interviewed by the Excélsior newspaper for this report. However, the chemical analysis of one of the MacLeche packages that came from the Port of Veracruz to that of La Guaira reveals the ineffectiveness of the controls.
Although the packaging affirms that the product contained 26 grams (0.9 oz.) of protein per 100 grams (3.5 oz), a study by the Institute of Food Science and Technology of Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), conducted at the request of Armando.info, showed that it barely reached to 8.79 grams (0.3 oz.) of protein. Something similar occurs with the calcium intake ?a child would need to drink almost 42 glasses to cover the daily requirement of that mineral, while an adult should take 82.6 glasses. In contrast, the sodium value reached 604 milligrams, almost doubling the amount stated on the packaging and the amount recommended by the National Nutrition Institute (INN) of Venezuela.
In spite of the above, the official maintains that they were compliant, as the companies requested the "Free Sale Export Certificate," which obliged to verify compliance with the Mexican labeling standards only, while Venezuela had to demand a "Product Analysis Certificate" to verify the quality of some items that are mostly exclusively packaged for the program created by Maduro.
But to date, there is no proof that the Venezuelan authorities or the intermediaries that sold the merchandise to the Venezuelan Government requested the Analysis Certificate. "The food to be exported only requires the Certificates of Free Sale," Jacques Rivera insists.
On February 21, 2018, barely three days after Armando.info revealed the poor quality of up to eight brands of Mexican milk sold in the CLAPs, the Venezuelan Foreign Trade Corporation (Corpovex), a state company that centralizes public imports and negotiated the contracts for the supply of CLAPs with intermediaries, sent a letter to the Mexican suppliers stating that "it is mandatory to submit to the verification company and Corpovex the Sanitary Registry and the Certificate of Free Consumption in the country of origin of all shipped products corresponding to the Local Supply and Production Committee (CLAP), either as combos or loose cargo." When the Mexican businessmen received the letter signed by Major General Giuseppe Yoffreda Yorio, the damage was done.
Almost a year earlier, on April 4, 2017, the federal office of Cofepris approved Empacadora de Alimentos Fucks S de RL de CV’s export certificate for Rancho Nuevo milk powder, and on October 7, it authorized Sólo Un Precio Servicios Inmobiliarios S. de RL de CV to sell Soy Más, a brand also exported by Value Oriented Services (VOS), to Venezuela. The nutritional information of both brands was false and their nutritional values were far from the parameters approved for consumption. Rancho Nuevo barely contained 3.82 grams of protein per 100 grams of the product, a value well below the 25.8 grams required by the Venezuelan nutritional standard or the 34 grams provided for in the Official Mexican Standard.
No Venezuelan official has made a statement on the matter, saved for Maduro, who reported irregularities last year, but gave no further details. "Once there were a few complaints here and there. We investigated them and took corrective actions because there were some poor-quality products. The corrective measures were taken immediately," said the president. The opposition deputy, Freddy Superlano, traveled to the Mexican capital and on May 14, filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office. "How is it possible that fake powdered milk produced in Mexico has marketing authorization and no one is sanctioned for such fraud?" Asks the member of the Parliament who acts as a chairman of the National Assembly’s comptroller's office commission.
Despite the diplomatic tension between Maduro's government and his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto, figures from Mexico's Ministry of Economy reveal that Venezuela was last year’s major buyer of milk powder. The exchange amounted to 56 million kilos (over 123 million pounds) in bulk at around $ 0.5 per kilogram (2.2 lb). The milk included in the CLAP boxes, was in turn billed to the Venezuelan Government by intermediaries like Group Grand Limited at 4.75 dollars per kilo, in January 2017, and at 6.95 dollars per kilo eight months later. Others like Wellsford Trading Corp billed it at just over $ 4 per kilo, while M.I.R Importació I Exportació billed it at almost $ 5 per kilo.
This year, bulk shipments decreased. In the first four months, just over 2 million 100 thousand kilograms were exported, but from January to May, about twenty shipments left from Mexican ports to Venezuela, loaded with millions of CLAP boxes that were distributed by the Government before the presidential election of May 20. Those batches included new brands of milk powder. "We are in another food packaging center for the CLAPs. We are verifying the quality of the products included in the boxes. This is the milk." said the Minister of Food, Luis Medina Ramírez, on June 8, through his Twitter account, while exhibiting a pack of Vaca Milk, manufactured by B-Eminent Inc of Mexico.
In 2017, that company packaged the Vital Milk brand, which despite of being among the ones showing the best nutritional values in the chemical test, was also far from fully complying with the Venezuelan nutritional standard. Children need 17.6 glasses of that milk to cover their daily demand for calcium, while adults need 35.1 glasses.
This year, the food combos from Mexico also included presentations by Brandon Group, an unknown firm in the Mexican dairy industry that gave false nutritional information and even a false address on the packaging of the Lacto Mas and Suprema brands. It may be a sign that Mexico continues sending "bad milk" for Venezuela’s CLAPs.
*This article was prepared in cooperation with the Mexican Excelsior newspaper
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