In Mexico, there is a long tradition of cheating in the supply of dairy products packaged for social programs. Hence, it should not be surprising that the Venezuelan corruption had found in that country the perfect formula to include in the so-called CLAP Boxes a paste purchased at auction price as cow's powdered milk. For a mysterious reason, ghostly or barely known companies are the ones monopolizing purchase orders from Venezuela.
The verification that the powdered milk included in the so-called "CLAP boxes" is fraudulent, opens questions about the vendors and intermediaries selected by the Venezuelan authorities and the controls that the authorities could apply on the imported product. But that inquiry must not overlook the origin of the merchandise, Mexico. This country registers a dismal tradition of poor quality dairy products intended for its social programs. False information in the nutrition facts label and low supply of nutrients are part of a verifiable pattern both in the CLAP program of Nicolás Maduro Government and in successive initiatives of the Mexican Government.
From as early as 2004, the Consumer Protection Federal Agency (Profeco), one of the federal agencies in Mexico dealing with consumers’ right, have been warning that some brands of milk show problems in commercial information or bear misleading and deceptive legends. In 2006, through the Ministry of Economy, Profeco revealed that 400 brands of dairy products cheated consumers by offering soy or rice drinks as milk. Already in 2008, the agency imposed large fines on more than a hundred brands and banned the sale of four million products.
"Profeco makes verifications every day through the Office of the Assistant Attorney General for Verification - which this laboratory is attached to - and the Verification and Supervision Department. We verify the different points of sale. If there are irregularities concerning the components, a report is made, and based on that, an administrative process takes place in the form of a trial, and if the irregularity is proved, a fine is imposed," explains Engels Ruelas Olvera, General Director of the National Laboratory of Profeco.
In fact, one of the companies that appear as vendors of the Venezuelan CLAP program, Deshidratados Alimenticios e Industriales (DAI), was awarded dozens of contracts from 2012 to 2016 by the Mexican federal government to provide milk to social programs such as "Apadrina a un niño indígena" (Sponsor a indigenous child)," Despensas discapacitados" (Pantries for the Disabled),"Pequeños en movimiento" (Growing children), and "Creciendo sanos" (Healthy Growing), among others.
On May 15, 2017, the Health Ministry of the State of that entity, through the Federal Commission for the Protection Against Sanitary Risks (Cofepris), gave DAI, registered in the state of Nuevo León, a certificate of free sale and export to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
By that time, massive purchases of food from Mexican companies had skyrocketed thanks to at least two intermediaries from the Venezuelan government, namely, Group Grand Limited, a company linked to Colombian businessman Alex Saab, who Luisa Ortega Díaz, the Public Prosecutor removed from office, directly linked to Nicolás Maduro, or Postar Intertrade Limited, a company registered in Barbados and owned by Venezuelan businessman Samark López, whom the US Treasury Department describes as the "front man" of the Vice President of the Republic, Tareck El Aissami.
is the producer of the Mac Leche brand, "the one with the red cow", as the
Venezuelan consumers refer to in allusion to its emblem and logo. Among the
eight brand samples analyzed by the Institute of Food Science and Technology of
Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) - at the request of Armando.info -,
collected from September to December 2017, that is the one with the worst
nutritional profiles. Although the package affirms that it contains 26 grams
(0.91 oz) of protein per 100 grams (3.52 oz) of product, the chemical analysis
of UCV found that it barely reached 8.79 grams (0.31 oz), a fraction of a
quarter of the reference intake established by the Venezuelan Government through
its regulatory agencies. In the laboratory, Mac Leche had a proportion of sodium
that doubles the quantity indicated on the packaging, which is, by the way, the
maximum allowed by national and international milk standards. This
characteristic produces the salty taste that consumers often complain about in
social media and that is already part of the image
- probably undesired - of the brand.
These distortions alone already violate two Mexican standards, NOM-155-SCFI-2012 that establishes among the nutritional properties of milk a minimum of 34 grams (1.19 oz) of proteins per liter, and NOM-051-SCFI/SSA1-2010 establishing that the label information "must be true and be described and presented in such a way as not to mislead the consumer regarding the nature and characteristics of the product."
However, business opportunities in Venezuela are so attractive that DAI, in addition to its retail participation in the CLAP combos with the Mac Leche brand, appears delivering from October to November 2017 shipments of around 2,100 tons of powdered milk for the Venezuelan state corporation Sole Corporation of Productive and Food Services (Cuspal), attached to the Ministry of Food, based on the records of Puerto Cabello, Carabobo state, the country's main port. The Mac Leche brand was so broadly recognized among low purchasing power consumers, beneficiaries of the welfare programs of the Government of Nicolás Maduro, that during some months of 2017, DAI had to coexist with another brand of milk, a “me too” that openly tried to imitate the colors, name and visual identity of Mac Leche.
DAI’s legal representative Jaime H. García was contacted, but by the time this report was closed, he had not clarified the disparity between the information reported on the labels by the company and the UCV analysis, nor the case of the counterfeit of the product. Neither did the Cofepris Mexican authorities offer their version about the irregularities.
The singularity of the DAI - Mac Leche case is that it is a company and a brand that operate both in the Mexican and Venezuelan markets openly and simultaneously. Most CLAP dairy substitutes are produced by companies with unknown histories and through brands like Lacto Más and Suprema, which are not even sold in the supermarket networks of Mexico and are exclusively produced for Venezuela.
Both Lacto Más and Suprema are packaged by Grupo Brandon, an unknown company in the Mexican food industry. Anyone who follows the address reflected in the packaging of both brands will arrive at a house in Colonia del Valle, San Pedro, Garza García, in Nuevo León. But there operates another company, the representatives of which say they have nothing to do with milk production or processing. The chemical analysis of UCV made to the Supreme brand milk reveals that this product barely contains 4.7 grams (0.16 oz) of protein per 100 grams (3.52 oz) instead of the 29 grams (1.02 oz) reflected on the label, and only 115.33 milligrams (0.0040 oz) of calcium, well below the 900 milligrams (0.0031 oz) that it offers. An inscription on the packaging reads, "To be distributed in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” Despite this, the CLAP business for Grupo Brandon seems to be booming. Recently, the Santa Paula brand arrived in Venezuela, also packed by the company.
Something similar to Grupo Brandon occurs with Dilac, responsible for the production of KF Milk and Pure Milk, both also analyzed by UCV. Both brands prefer to identify themselves as "fortified dairy products" instead of as milk. But this barely perceptible transparency ends there. At the alleged offices of the company, they said they did not know those brands. It is a dairy company, but it does not export products to the Mexican market.
Since the beginning of the CLAPs, no Venezuelan official has explained why these barely known Mexican companies or the intermediaries that have ended up buying that merchandise were chosen.
For some months now, parliament members of different opposition political parties have been offering to make informal proceedings on request before agencies like the Colombian Attorney General's Office and the United States Department of the Treasury. They issue letters of good conduct to those responsible for negotiations on the imports for CLAP combos, so that such agencies absolve or stop investigating entrepreneurs like Carlos Lizcano, a subordinate of the already sanctioned Alex Saab and Alvaro Pulido. The fact that the most active defense of the main social program and focus of corruption of the government of Nicolas Maduro comes from the heart of the National Assembly 'in contempt' is just one of the ironies of this story.
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