Tuesday, September 16, 2008

China's baby milk crisis worsens

Authorities in China has said that tests on more than 100 baby milk products have found 22 contaminated with melamine. So far at least two babies have died and hundreds have been hospitalised after they consumed products tainted with the chemical. Two people have so far been arrested and four senior staff working for one of the companies singled out in the scare, have been fired [CNN].
There has been much concern about the quality of Chinese products over the last few years. And it is not the first time Sanlu has been connected to a scandal involving tainted milk powder. In 2004, at least 13 infants in the eastern Anhui province died of malnutrition after drinking milk powder that had little nutritional content [BBC]. The China Daily reported that the illegally manufactured milk was falsely labelled with the Sanlu brand.

However, not all such cases of contamination originate in China. In 2004 some brands of baby formula manufactured by Nestle were found tainted with the bacteria E. Sukiyaki which can cause meningitis or severe gut infections [BBC]. In 2001 there were concerns over another baby milk powder after it was found to contain traces of bacteria. SMA Nutrition agreed to issue a recall after learning that a bacterium, which causes botulism, had been found in two of its brands [BBC].

The scale of the scandal that has hit China is however on a far bigger scale. The number of babies that have become ill stands at 1,253 according to officials [BBC]. And parents will once again be asking questions of authorities. There may also be concerns abroad. Many food products originate from China and authorities may well be looking to see if any of the 22 contaminated baby milk brands were exported. Taiwan said late on Sunday it was banning all imports of Sanlu dairy products immediately. However, it is not believed that the milk powder was exported to any other country.

Last year melamine contamination resulted in the recall of more than 150 brands of cat and dog food in the US. Several pets across the US died after eating the tainted food. Two Chinese businesses, a U.S. company and top executives of each were indicted by a federal grand jury in February in connection with the pet food, which resulted in deaths and serious illnesses in up to thousands of U.S. pets, according to federal prosecutors . The number of people involved in China’s latest story of corruption and industrial neglect may run into hundreds. Authorities insist that they will pursue all those involved though it will be of little consolation to the grieving mothers [Xinhua].

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