News

China reports more cases of contaminated milk

Chinese officials have found 76 tons of milk powder and dairy items laced with a deadly industrial chemical in at least three provinces, products they say are left over from a milk scandal in 2008 that killed six babies and sickened hundreds of thousands of other children.

Chinese officials have found 76 tons of milk powder and dairy items laced with a deadly industrial chemical in at least three provinces, products they say are left over from a milk scandal in 2008 that killed six babies and sickened hundreds of thousands of other children.

Workers check for industrial chemical melamine in milk products in a lab of Yili Industrial Group Co. during the first melamine scandal in 2008. ((Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press) )
The discovery shows that toxic milk remains a danger in China despite a crackdown in which dozens of people were arrested and two — a dairy farmer and a milk salesmen — were executed for producing or selling toxic milk.

State media and food safety experts said the recently seized melamine-tainted powder was probably produced in or before 2008 and stockpiled instead of destroyed. China ordered tens of thousands of tainted milk products burned or buried after more than 300,000 children were sickened and at least six died from the contamination. But, the government did not carry out the destruction itself.

"It is crucial to account for the amount that was contaminated back in 2008 and make sure it is being destroyed or disposed of safely," said Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a World Health Organization senior scientist on food safety based in Beijing. "As long as part of it is still not accounted for or destroyed properly, we will, unfortunately, see these types of things happening again."

Tainted batches were also found earlier this year in Shanghai and the provinces of Shaanxi, Shandong, Liaoning and Hebei, prompting a 10-day emergency crackdown with inspection teams fanning out to 16 provinces.

Melamine is added to watered-down milk to make it appear rich in protein in quality tests that measure nitrogen, found in both melamine and protein. Health problems from the chemical include kidney stones and kidney damage.

Latest discovery occurred in June

The official Xinhua News Agency reported that the latest discovery occurred in June when authorities found 64 tons of raw materials for making milk powder and 12 tons of finished powder tainted with melamine at a factory in the far-western province of Qinghai. In a separate case, also in June, authorities seized about 1,000 packets of tainted milk powder in the northeastern province of Jilin, Xinhua said.

A spokesman for the National Food Safety Regulating Work Office told Xinhua that the owner and two others at the Dongyuan Dairy Factory had been arrested, along with a person accused of supplying milk powder.

"All tainted milk powder at Dongyuan Dairy Factory … [has] been sealed, and the Dongyuan dairy products that were sold to distributors outside Qinghai have also been seized," Xinhua quoted the spokesman as saying. "We have not yet found tainted milk products on the consumer market."

The contamination was discovered because Dongyuan sent samples of the powder, which it had purchased from Hebei province, to a lab for testing so it could figure out how much to dilute it before selling it, Xinhua said, citing police.

Dongyuan had already sold some of the tainted goods to businesses in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, it said.

In Zhejiang, about three tons of Dongyuan milk powder were used to make ice cream and other products, but most was still being processed and had not entered the market, Xinhua quoted a provincial food safety official as saying.

Li Xiaoquan, right, holds up a photo of his twin daughters, Li Xiaokai and Li Xiaoyan, who is pictured in the arms of her mother, Li Aiqing, at their home in central China's Henan province. Nine month old Li Xiaokai, who had been drinking a brand of milk formula linked to the melamine scandal, died from kidney failure. ((Ng Han Guan/Associated Press))
The Xinhua report didn't say whether there were any reports of people getting sick from the products.

The phone at the Dongyuan factory rang unanswered Friday, and China's Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

Zhang Zhongjun, a representative for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Beijing, said the latest discoveries highlight China's ongoing struggle to step up food safety.

"We think the situation is improving but there are still some problems," Zhang said. He said many manufacturers are small-scale operations with little food safety awareness and numerous agencies handle enforcement, creating confusion that lets some offenders slip through the cracks.

Embarek, the WHO expert, said a food safety law passed last year has tough new standards for dairy and infant formula, but it will take time to train companies to implement them and regulators to enforce them.

"It will take years to put into practice, but the country is on the way to doing that," he said.

now