China Trying to Fix Food Safety Issues AgainOct 31, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Amid the ongoing, massive, and global melamine tainting scandal decimating China’s dairy industry, its health minister is urging officials to correct the food safety system now that the deluge of Chinese children hospitalized for melamine poisoning has eased somewhat.
Health Minister Chen Zhu said that, as of Wednesday, 2,390 children remained hospitalized after suffering kidney stones and painful complications from drinking infant formula containing the industrial chemical melamine, which is used to make plastics, fertilizer, and fire retardants. Melamine has gained notoriety in recent years for its ability to cheat nutrition tests. Because melamine possesses high nitrogen contents, it is used to falsify protein levels in foods and 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.
"Now we've gone past the peak in infant checks and diagnoses," Chen told officials on Thursday, the official Xinhua news agency reported. At the peak of the scandal late last month, up to 22,000 infants were in the hospital on any given day. Now, melamine is turning up in eggs and Chen is asking officials to break down bureaucratic barriers that stalled the government's handling of a variety of health scandals last year involving toys, toothpaste, and other items. "Improve the food safety general coordination mechanism as quickly as possible," he told the health officials. "Coordinate and cooperate to investigate and punish major incidents."
The World Health Organization's (WHO) food safety chief, Jorgen Schlundt, last week called China's food-safety system "disjointed" and said poor communication between ministries and agencies may have extended the melamine scandal. Xinhua reported that, in response to the scandal, China has withdrawn 8,312 metric tons of "unqualified" milk products. The Chinese mainland-raised eggs are believed to have been tainted through melamine-tainted chicken feed.
Since the scandal began, melamine has been discovered in a wider variety of foods containing dairy products such as yogurt, chocolate, dairy drinks, milk teas and coffees, biscuits, cheese, candy, and ice cream. This week, the Associated Press reported that the “Hong Kong government said it found excessive amounts of melamine in Blueberry Cream Sandwich crackers made by Philippine company Croley Foods MFG. Corporation.” This week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued a warning not to eat, distribute, or sell Sherwood brand Pirate's Gold milk chocolate coins, imported from China and recalled after testing positive for melamine. Last year, melamine was found in China-made pet food ingredients that killed pets in North America. The melamine scandal has wreaked significant damage to the dairy industry in China with global recalls occurring on an ongoing basis.
"The right to safe food and appropriate nutrition is every citizen's right, but one after another food-safety incident is challenging this right," the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, said, adding that the scare exposed long-standing failings in food-safety regulation.