China Promises Dairy ReformsNov 21, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP China has been making headlines in recent months over seemingly endless scandals regarding food contamination, specifically with the industrial chemical melamine. Now, the NY Times’ edition of the International Herald Tribune is reporting that China just announced plans to implement a variety of health reforms, specifically concerning the dairy industry.
The International Herald Tribune states that China’s State Council—China's cabinet—released regulations for the dairy industry that begin with breeding, include feed, and end with the packaging and sale of milk. The sweeping move is being made following the melamine scandal that broke in September—but that was covered up for some time prior—in which 54,000 children were sickened and at least four infants died. Chinese-produced milk formula powder tainted with melamine turned out to be responsible for the deaths and illnesses. According to Reuters, China’s Health Ministry confirmed yesterday that over 1,000 infants are still “hospitalized with kidney damage.”
Melamine is used in the production of plastics, fire retardants, and fertilizer. The chemical is also sometimes added to food by unethical manufacturers because its high nitrogen contents makes products appear to have higher-than-actual protein counts. Melamine is known to cause serious, sometimes fatal, kidney problems—including kidney stones and kidney failure—when ingested.
According to The International Herald Tribune, the Chinese government said new laws and standards for the dairy agency would be implemented by next October. The International Herald Tribune also said that China's official news agency, Xinhua, stated that the goal of the new standards "is to have well-bred cows and a mass-producing dairy industry."
As well-intentioned as China’s announcement seems, the International Herald Tribune points out that this is not the first time such promises have been made. China pledged reform last year after tainted pet food sickened thousands and killed hundreds of pets in the United States and Canada. In that case, melamine was also was added to pet food ingredients imported from China. After that scandal, China claimed to have banned melamine as an animal feed additive, the International Herald Tribune reports.
That claim of a melamine ban in animal feed is questionable at best. Just this week, USA Today reported on two more recalls of melamine-tainted pet food. The recall involved Costco Wholesale Corporations Kirkland Signature Super Premium Lamb and Rice canned dog pet food and some shipments of Chenango Valley Pet Food. The USA Today report also said that approximately 6,000 hogs in the U.S. may have been fed pet food made from “salvage products” containing melamine-tainted rice gluten. Hundreds of those hogs may be in “the human food supply,” in this country, officials from the Food & Drug Administration said.