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China Will Punish Melamine-Tainted Formula Makers

Sep 12, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP In response to yesterday’s news that melamine-tainted baby formula made in China might have made its way into the United States, China launched a nationwide investigation into all baby milk powders, saying manufacturers producing tainted powder "will face serious punishment."  The tainted formula has sickened dozens of infants and is believed responsible for the death of one baby.

Initially, the China state news agency Zinhua was reporting that 14 babies had been hospitalized for kidney stones, an extremely rare problem in babies.  Soon after those reports surfaced, news broke that the contaminant was found in one brand of formula and that one baby’s death was likely linked to the tainted milk powder.  China state media said the investigation would look into determining if the tainted formula led to the baby's death and caused kidney stones in dozens of other babies.

The baby died in the northwestern Gansu province as a result of kidney stones and over 50 other babies have developed kidney stones in the Gansu and a variety of other provinces this year.  Meanwhile, this new outbreak has reminded many of the fake milk powder scandal of 2004 that killed at least 13 babies in China’s eastern Anhui province.  In that case, investigators determined that the milk had no nutritional value and a widespread investigation into food safety there was launched.

"[Authorities] in collaboration with local governments will determine the cause and the responsibility and severely punish those responsible," the health ministry said of this emerging scandal, reported Xinhua.  The Administration of Quality, Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine was responsible for the probe, it added.

Investigations are confirming that most of the ill babies had consumed Sanlu brand formula.  Sanlu was recalling milk formula made prior to August 6, according to Xinhua, which also said that at least 700 metric tons of powder contaminated with melamine were believed to be in circulation.  Melamine is a toxic chemical used in plastics, fertilizers, and cleaning products and was strongly believed and “highly suspected” to have contaminated batches of Sanlu milk formula, China's Ministry of Health said late yesterday.

Sanlu is partly owned by the New Zealand-based dairy product company Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd.  In a statement sent to the Associated Press, Fonterra said that Sanlu "has advised us that they have recalled product in China and have put new milk quality testing procedures in place."

Most recently, melamine was used by Chinese suppliers of animal feed components to make them appear to contain more protein and was linked to the formation of kidney stones and kidney failure in pets in the United States last year.  That scandal led to the death and illness of thousands of pets in this country.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers to avoid all baby formula made in China and that even though no brand of Chinese baby formula has ever been approved for sale in the U.S., the product may be sold at ethnic groceries, specifically in areas with large Chinese immigrant populations, such as New York and San Francisco.

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