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Chinese Eggs Tainted with Excessive Amounts of Melamine

Oct 27, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Hong Kong authorities are expanding their testing of food to now include meat products imported from China, the Associated Press (AP) reported this weekend.  The expansion was implemented following the discovery of excessive melamine levels found in Chinese eggs.

The AP reported that the broadening of testing followed an announcement this weekend that Hong Kong testers discovered 4.7 parts per million of melamine in imported eggs produced by a division of China’s Dalian Hanwei Enterprise Group.  The legal melamine limit for food products in Hong Kong is nearly half that at 2.5 ppm.  Hong Kong Secretary for Food and Health, York Chow said that the melamine may have come from feed given to the chickens that laid the eggs, “The preliminary opinion experts have given us is that there is a problem with the feed,” Chow is quoted as saying in the AP.  Chow reported that the egg results prompted officials to expand food testing to meat imports from China; Hong Kong officials will increase checks of eggs imported from China, as well.

The AP noted that the banned cancer-causing industrial dye Sudan Red was used to color egg yolks in an earlier egg-related food safety scare in Hong Kong and China.

Melamine is an industrial 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 can create the appearance in food of being high in protein and has been used in recent years to falsify protein levels in foods.  In the current melamine-tainting scandal, the toxic chemical was added to watered-down baby formula to create the impression of high protein levels in the diluted milk products.  Since the scandal began, melamine has been discovered in a wider variety of foods containing dairy products such as yogurt, dairy drinks, milk teas and coffees, biscuits, cheese, yogurt, candy, and ice cream.  The scandal has caused a series of international recalls and has wreaked significant damage to the dairy industry in China.  The AP is also reporting that the “Hong Kong government also said it found excessive amounts of melamine in Blueberry
Cream Sandwich crackers made by Philippine company Croley Foods MFG. Corporation.”

Meanwhile, over 3,600 children remain sick in China from contaminated milk, with three in serious condition, the Ministry of Health said last week, according to the AP.  Four infant deaths are linked to the melamine tainting.  The melamine contamination in milk from China apparently occurred because the industrial chemical was added to milk collected from farmers and sold to large dairy companies.  In those cases, suppliers are accused of adding the melamine to diluted milk.

Melamine can cause kidney problems—including kidney stones and kidney failure—when ingested.  At its height, the scandal caused 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.

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