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China Finally Orders Milk Product Recall

Oct 15, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

China has finally ordered the withdrawal of all liquid and powdered milk made more than a month ago.  The recall was instituted over issues with melamine tainting and the related deaths of four children and the illness and hospitalizations of tens of thousands others.  It is believed that the move is being made in an effort to help restore confidence following the tainted milk scandal that has rocked China’s dairy industry and resulted in worldwide recalls.  This represents the first time that the Chinese government issued a comprehensive recall of products since the milk scandal was made public last month.

Melamine is a chemical that has gained notoriety in recent years for its ability to cheat nutrition tests; the chemical was originally designed to make plastics, fertilizer, and fire retardants.  Because melamine possesses high nitrogen contents, it is used to falsify protein levels in foods; the toxic chemical was added to watered-down baby formula to create the impression of high protein levels in the diluted products and is now turning up in a wider variety of foods containing dairy products.  Melamine can cause kidney problems—including kidney stones and kidney failure—when ingested and is also to blame for the death of four and the illnesses of some 54,000 children in China.  Some dairy suppliers have been arrested and the Chinese government has dismissed some local and national officials for negligence.

The products could go on sale again if they passed quality tests and were labeled safe, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.  Meanwhile, the recall order was approved by six government ministries and administrations and requires shops across China to remove all liquid and powdered milk produced before September 14 from their shelves.  On September 15, a countrywide inspection of milk producing facilities was launched.  The recall includes brands that previously passed the government's quality tests; however, BBC China editor Shirong Chen says the order not been strictly heeded and some stores are still selling dairy products without quality checks or new labels.

Chinese health officials last week said that nearly 10,700 infants and children remained hospitalized after drinking toxic milk and formula, with many remaining in serious condition; over 36,000 other children had been treated and released.   The China Ministry of Agriculture continues sending quality teams across the country to monitor the crackdown at milk stations and with animal feed producers.  "Supervise and urge local authorities to investigate and punish the illegal use of melamine and other toxins, and other unlawful adulteration," the ministry said.  Experts believe approximately 94,000 others may also be affected by melamine-tainted dairy products.

The FDA has increased inspections and product testing efforts, focusing on milk products from China into the U.S., especially in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York areas due to their large Asian communities.  The FDA is also working closely with Customs and Border Protection within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (DCD), other federal agencies, and foreign governments.

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