Tainted Baby Formula Sickens Over 1,200 in ChinaSep 15, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP We have been reporting on melamine-tainted baby formula that was made in China and might have made its way into the United States. Last week, the formula sickened dozens of infants, was believed responsible for one death, and a nationwide investigation into all baby milk powders, saying manufacturers producing tainted powder "will face serious punishment."
Now, authorities acknowledged that about 10,000 babies may have drunk melamine-laced milk powder. 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 is used in plastics, fertilizers, and cleaning products and can make protein levels of diluted milk appear higher.
Last seek, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned 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.
New Zealand's prime minister, Helen Clark, accused China of hiding the contamination. Clark came to the defense of Fonterra, her nation's dairy giant, which owns a 43 percent stake in Sanlu Group, China’s largest infant formula maker. Clark said she learned of the contamination September 5 and ordered her embassy in Beijing to alert the central government. Clark said local officials in Hebei province, where Sanlu is based, did not want to order an official recall. "At the local level in China, given all the bad publicity China has had about food scares, I think their first inclination was to put a towel over it and deal with it without an official recall," Clark said. Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier said melamine was likely put in milk before it arrived at the factory. "In this case we frankly have sabotage of a product," Ferrier said. "It's just such a huge tragedy."
Meanwhile, inspectors were deployed across China for rush inspections of its 175 baby formula producers to try to rebuild confidence there. Authorities also confirmed a huge jump in the numbers of babies affected by melamine-tainted formula, with figures reaching 1,253 babies sickened; 340 are in the hospital and 53 are in serious condition, Deputy Health Minister Ma Shaowei confirmed, acknowledging that two babies died in Gansu Province. "As many as 10,000 infants may have drunk the contaminated Sanlu infant formula," Ma said. Consumers are outraged at the rapidly increasing instances of illness and because it seems as if Sanlu knew of consumer complaints as long ago as March and that some babies were admitted to hospitals with kidney stones.
Chinese regulators ordered Sanlu to halt production and are destroying the formula. The state Xinhua news agency said Hebei officials confirmed over 10,000 tons of seized baby formula would be destroyed and that two brothers who are milk brokers in Hebei province were arrested; one confessed to lacing as much as three tons of milk daily beginning late last year.