Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Four babies dead in China milk crisis

Concern over the global financial crisis may be spreading across Asia, but for many parents there is a far more worrisome issue on the minds of many as the scandal of poisoned milk claims another young victim. Melamine has been found in at least 22 companies’ products and more than 6,000 babies are said to have fallen ill [Channel Four News].
The concern now is that some of the contaminated milk products may have been exported to several other countries outside the Chinese mainland. Last night Sky News reported that Denmark had reportedly removed some products from shelves after a number of products manufactured by the Danish company Arla were found to be tainted. In Hong Kong the Yili Industrial Group Co have also withdrawn milk, yoghurt and ice cream from sale [Sky News / BBC].

As concern over the milk products increases it has left many parents in China with a dilemma. Many cannot afford the more expensive imported products and many feel they may not be safe despite assurances from the authorities [Xinhua]. Although breast feeding is widespread in China, it has dwindled in recent years as parents become busier and with increased promotion of baby formula. In the population as a whole, China's consumption of milk products has soared from 8.5 kilograms per person in 2000 to 25 kilograms in 2007. China's health minister, Chen Zhu, and its top quality chief, Li Changjiang, said 6244 babies, five times more than previously announced, had fallen ill after being fed melamine-laced infant formula. Of those, 1327 babies remained in hospital, 158 with acute renal failure. But despite the large number of products affected he insisted all Olympic foods were "absolutely safe".

In the US the FDA has warned consumers not to buy milk products imported from China. Importing Chinese-manufactured baby formula into the U.S. is illegal, but federal officials say they know of at least one case in which a Chinese brand was found in a New York store in 2004. "We're concerned that there may be some formula that has come in illegally and could potentially be in the ethnic Chinese markets," said Janice Oliver, a deputy director at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in College Park, Md. [LA Times].

Many parents are not only angry with the manufacturers but also with the government for not regulating the quality strictly enough. Premier Wen Jiabao held a special cabinet meeting on Wednesday to address the crisis and authorities have said they will tighten up regulation in the dairy industry [Chinese govt]. The State Council has admitted that regulations had failed to improve food standards saying the “Sanlu infant milk powder incident reflects chaos in the dairy products market and loopholes in supervision, and administration which has not been vigorous”. Consumer confidence will be difficult to heal especially after so many babies have fallen ill. The issue highlights yet another area where government regulation has failed. Last month authorities admitted that school buildings which crumbled following the Sichuan earthquake may not have been built to required standards. Hundreds of children died and many of their grieving parents have called for answers. With regards the current scandal over milk contamination some have accused the government of a cover up until after the Olympics. Chinese authorities were informed at least 6 weeks ago that there might be a problem with some products but failed to inform the public until this week [Daily Telegraph].

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