Spilt milk in China

by revere, cross-posted at Effect Measure

The Chinese food contamination scandal continues to widen. The European Union (EU) is now banning imports of all Chinese baby foods that contain milk. The problem is the presence of melamine, a cheap chemical used to make plastics that looks like protein in the screening assays used to see if food products meet standards for protein content. It was added by unscrupulous Chinese pet food manufacturers a year ago, resulting in the illness and deaths of thousands of cats and dogs in the US and Canada. The thinking is that melamine combines with cyanuric acid in urine to produce lattice crystals which damage the kidney and can lead to kidney stones. The most recent episodes involve spiking watered milk with melamine and incorporating it into baby formula. Four babies have died and tens of thousands sickened within China. But the problem is not limited to China as many foods and food ingredients are exported to other countries. It is to protect against these exports that prompted the 27 nation EU to announce the ban, pending testing, of all Chinese imports containing more than 15% milk powder.

It appears that the problem may not be as limited as once thought, since the use of melamine as an adulterant is said to be an “open secret” within China. The AP reports that melamine has been found in the mile of 22 Chinese dairies. Melamine contamination of Chinese exports of candies, rice balls and yogurt are being reported. Concern has spread outside the EU:

India became the largest and most populous country to announce a ban on Chinese milk and milk products today, with the ban to remain in force for three months.Vietnam and Nepal halted sales of all Chinese milk products and would now increase testing of such imports. Vietnam health officials warned tainted Chinese milk may have been sold in its remote, impoverished central region.

South Korea recalled products with melamine yesterday after the Korea Food and Drug Administration found tainted rice cookies made for a South Korean confectionary by one of its divisions in China.

Singapore said it had tested melamine in five more products including two Dutch Lady fruit-flavored milk products.

Kraft Foods took out a full-page advertisement in Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper to say its Oreo products were safe and did not contain milk ingredients from China.

Global coffee giant Starbucks said it had started using fresh milk from a Hong Kong milk supplier in 55 of its stores in southern China, ditching its usual China supplier. (Reuters via Irish Times )

 

China may have an authoritarian central government but what goes on in the provinces is often beyond its control. And what goes on there was largely invisible to everyone until Chinese exports started to reach every corner of the globe in quantity. As its reputation and credibly lie in tatters, China is now discovering one of the hazards of that kind of economic reach.

And the world is discovering the hazards of Chinese exports.

Comments

  1. #1 Mine Guy
    September 27, 2008

    I’m not sure your aware of this, but in Taiwan the Health Minister just got fired because he was “following the FDA regulations with respect to the safe amount of melamine in foods”. He was tossed out and there is an uproar in that country. What does this refer to? What is the “safe amount” of melamine in foods/drinks in the United States?

    Thanks!

  2. #2 Liz
    September 30, 2008

    That’s interesting about Taiwan’s health minister – I hadn’t heard that part of the story.

    Abel Pharmboy just linked to an FDA risk assessment on melamine and its analogues that gives the Tolerable Daily Intake for melamine as .63mg per kilogram of body weight per day – maybe that’s what the now-former minister was referring to?

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