10,000 Chinese Children Hospitalized in Melamine Milk Scandal
Over 10,000 Chinese children are still in serious condition in China after drinking milk powder containing the industrial chemical melamine, which can lead to kidney stones and kidney failure. The scandal has been blamed for the deaths of four babies and sickening more than 54,000 others.
Dairy suppliers in China have been accused of adding melamine to watered down milk to make the product appear rich in protein and to fool the consumer. There were no standards in China until this week, when the Chinese Health Ministry issued guidelines for Melamine in foods. Wang Xuening, a Health Ministry official said, “Melamine cannot be used as an ingredient or additive in food products. For those who add melamine into food products, their legal responsibility will be investigated.”
The scandal first came to light in September, after the Beijing Olympics. The government has blamed local officials for delays in reporting problems with the milk powder and they found the Sanlu Group began receiving customer complaints about its milk powder as early as December, 2007. Sanlu is China’s biggest maker of infant milk products. As the scandal has gone on, however, toxic doses of Melamine have been found in yogurt, a popular candy, and nearly 10 percent of milk and yogurt samples from three major dairy companies: Mengniu Dairy Co, the Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group and the Bright group. Twenty-one companies have been implicated overall. Now Melamine is appearing in other countries that import food products from China including biscuits, creamers, Cadbury candy and sweet cakes.
Past product safety scandals in China have exposed corruption, influence peddling and a government that could not control cost-cutting producers. The trust in Chinese products has been shaken around the world after last year’s scares over toxic goods from toothpaste, pet food and toys. In 2004, watered down milk caused 13 infant deaths in China from malnutrition. At least 24 Countries have banned import food products from China as a result of the Melamine scandal, including the European Union.
Melamine is a man-made chemical that is used in a variety of industrial products, including the manufacture of fabrics, glues, synthetic countertops and house wares. It is a nitrogen rich molecule and when added to food it can increase the apparent protein content, fooling inspectors. Melamine is known to cause kidney and urinary problems in humans and animals so its use in food has been banned in China and other countries. The chemical is not water-soluble and must be mixed with formaldehyde or other chemicals before it can be added to milk. Because of its ubiquitous use in farming as a pesticide, it may be present in the food chain, including in poultry, eggs, fish and dairy products.
One Chinese industry insider said, “This has certainly been an indictment of the food safety regimen in China, but it’s important to note that the culprit here is the city government – they are the ones who blocked the information coming out, and tried to avoid a public recall of the product. Your regulator is the local government and your local partner is often really the local government.”