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Liquid Milk Now Implicated in Growing China Baby Formula Scandal

Sep 19, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

In the ongoing scandal over tainted baby formula and dairy products, China has added liquid milk to its contaminated product crisis.  First it was baby formula powder tainted with melamine that killed four babies and injured 6,200 others, then, ice cream bars were found to be similarly tainted.  Now, liquid milk. About 1,300 babies, mostly newborns, remain hospitalized; 158 are suffering from acute kidney failure.

Although officials said liquid milk was safe, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) said today that milk sold in liquid form by three leading Chinese dairies has also been found to be contaminated with melamine.  Also, a report posted on the agency's Website stated that test results indicated nearly 10 per cent of those samples taken from Mengniu Dairy Group Company and Yili Industrial Group Company—two of China's largest dairy companies—were contaminated with up to 8.4 milligrams of melamine per kilogram.  Additionally, milk tested from Shanghai-based Bright Dairy revealed melamine contamination.  "AQSIQ will strictly find out the reason for adding the melamine and severely punish those who are responsible," the notice said, adding that all the batches that tested positive were being recalled.

Melamine, which can trigger kidney failure, is the chemical found in contaminated pet food exports last year that caused the death of thousands of U.S. pets.  Melamine has no nutritional value and is used in plastics, fertilizers, fire retardants, and cleaning products.  Because of its high nitrogen levels, it can make protein levels of diluted milk appear higher.

Hundreds of parents looking for answers and refunds descended on Sanlu Group Company, the firm at the center of the scandal.  Thousands of other parents filled hospitals with children hooked to IV drips after drinking the tainted milk powder.  One baby, Yao Haoge, an 11-month-old with two large kidney stones, drank formula produced by Sanlu since she was born.  Her parents were concerned by her fevers and dark urine.  It never occurred to them she had kidney stones due to tainted formula.  Haoge is now hooked up with an IV in her head.  "We don't make much money, but we wanted to buy good milk powder," said her father, Yao Weiguan, a day-labourer from a small town an hour's train ride from Shijiazhuang.  "We thought it was good and now it's given us problems."

Sanlu reportedly received complaints about its formula as early as March; tests revealed the contamination by early August.  It took Sanlu until September 11—after its New Zealand stakeholder, Fonterra, told its government, which then informed the Chinese government—to go public with a recall.

Suppliers trying to cut costs are believed to have added melamine to diluted milk to cover up the protein deficiency.  In addition to Sanlu, China’s quality control watchdog reports that one-fifth of companies producing milk powder in China had melamine in their products.  A total of 18 people have been arrested over the scandal and the police there said six suspects allegedly sold melamine, while the remainder are accused of adding melamine to milk.


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