Spiked Milk An Open Secret in ChinaNov 4, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
China's Open Secret No Needs Revelation
Farmers in China confirm that milk spiking was an open secret in the Chinese dairy industry well before the ongoing melamine scandal, which broke when thousands of Chinese babies and children were sickened and four infants died as a result of drinking tainted milk. Now, dairy products and products made with dairy products from China are turning with melamine contamination internationally, causing global health scares.
Hebei province farmers are now admitting that so-called "protein powder" of often-unknown origin has been used for years a cheap way to ensure milk from undernourished cows dupes quality checks. When the larger companies caught on, some additive makers switched additives and began using toxic melamine to raise protein levels in substandard milk. Melamine mimics protein in lab tests and can cause severe kidney damage.
The scandal recently extended to contaminated eggs in Hong Kong and Mainland China; melamine-tainted feed is believed to be the source. Yang Yong, part owner of a feed mill says the practice is "very common" and hard to detect, adding that, “our testing can't pick it up.” The Agriculture Ministry confirmed it discovered melamine in 2.4% of feed investigated and that it destroyed or confiscated over 3,600 tons of contaminated feed. 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.
Rise In Demand For Melamine Manufacturers
Melamine manufacturers report a rise in demand for their factory's scrap. Residents in Zhangzhuang, for example, a small farming village, say melamine bought as scrap from a local factory was typically stored on the street outside the town’s school before being turned into a milk additive. "They kept it in big piles," says one village elder. Residents say the melamine business became so intense that those residents involved needed to work long hours and through holidays to meet demand.
Mengniu Dairy Company—China’s largest liquid milk supplier—and Nestlé SA—a multi-national food company—both confirm that they knew that Chinese farmers and traders were adding “unauthorized” substances to raw milk. Both firms claim that they were unaware that melamine was among the substances. "We knew there was adulteration" going on for many years, says Zhao Yuanhua, Mengniu's spokeswoman. A viscous yellow liquid containing fat and a combination of preservatives and antibiotics, known as "fresh-keeping liquid" are among the adulterants.
Meanwhile, over 2,300 Chinese children remain hospitalized for melamine-related kidney problems almost two months after the scandal hit the news. Actual protein powders, which are also prohibited from being added to raw milk, use protein from ground animal parts, soy, and other sources. Additive makers sometimes mix melamine with food additives such as the starch derivative maltodextrin, and repackage it for sale to dairy farmers without disclosing the ingredients. Some farmers add hydrogen peroxide, an antimicrobial and confirm that salespeople go from farm to farm in dairy-cow areas selling "protein powder" for use as an additive. Recently, farmers and Chinese authorities say, some manufacturers offered a new version of protein powder that they said could still fool dairies that had caught on to other protein additives. It contained melamine, but wasn't labeled as such. "Everyone just called it protein powder," says the second farmer. "Nowhere did it say it was melamine, " he says. "People never thought about it and never thought they needed to know more details."
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