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More Melamine Deaths

Nov 17, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Canada’s CBC News is now reporting that the number of deaths linked to China’s ongoing melamine scandal may be higher than first reported by the Chinese government.  According to the CBC, no less than five more children died after drinking melamine-tainted formula.

One twin baby girl died of kidney failure in early September, and four other infants, as reported by the Associated Press (AP), died and were not included in the numbers of those who died and which have long been reported out of China, said the CBC. CBC stated that because there were such large time lags between the initial poisonings and the scandal breaking, it is possible that the number of those affected are greater than firs suspected.  CBC notes that those families who are unable to link the cause of death to tainted milk are unable to “sue for compensation.”

Meanwhile, CBC reported that last week, 15 lawyers for nearly 100 families whose children fell ill after ingesting melamine-tainted milk initiated a class-action lawsuit against one of China’s largest milk manufacturer’s, Sanlu, the company at the heart of the scandal and which has been confirmed as having known at least as far back as 2007 that it knew its products were tainted with melamine and that it and local officials worked to cover up the scandal.  The suit, said CBC, will seek “medical and other expenses, payments for trauma, and compensation for the families of those who died.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported last week that the scandal recently extended to melamine-tainted feed and that tainting feed is a very common practice that is often hard to detect. The Agriculture Ministry in China confirmed to the WSJ that it discovered melamine in 2.4% of feed investigated and that it destroyed or confiscated over 3,600 tons of contaminated feed.  The WSJ stated that the ministry called on local officials to "resolutely crush the dark dens" making and selling melamine for feed, saying it found 238 and was investigating 278 more.  Melamine amounts found in eggs have been above the safety standard China and several other countries established of 2.5 parts per million, said the WSJ.

Also last week, the Associated Press (AP) reported that China’s state news agency—Xinhua—stated that 1,272 babies remain hospitalized there with illnesses linked to the melamine-tainted baby formula.  Two of the nearly 1,300 babies are in serious condition, the AP noted.

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.  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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